WASHINGTON Jan 28 The United States played down
on Monday a company's purchase of Iranian oil in South Korea,
saying the American ally shares the objective of keeping
pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program through sanctions.
Samsung Total Petrochemicals, a joint venture
between South Korea's Samsung Group and French energy
giant Total, bought Iranian condensate because thin
profit margins in plastics production make inexpensive fuel from
the Islamic Republic hard to resist, people familiar with the
deal said last week.
As the United States and the European Union placed new
sanctions on purchases of oil from Iran last year, South Korea
slashed crude purchases from Iran 36 percent to about 153,000
barrels per day in 2012.
The sanctions aim to slow Tehran's nuclear program, which
Western powers believe is aimed at developing weapons. Iran says
the program is for civilian purposes.
Under the U.S. sanctions law, banks in countries where
Iranian oil is bought can be cut off from the U.S. financial
system unless the purchases are reduced.
The State Department on Monday said South Korea is still on
the same page with the United States regarding Iran.
"We continue to engage in close consultations with the
Korean government on U.S. sanctions and share the objective of
maintaining pressure on Iran to comply with its international
obligations," said spokesman John Finn.
He said South Korea has significantly reduced its imports of
Iranian oil and that "month-to-month variability in crude oil
purchases is not unusual."
Finn declined to comment on whether U.S. officials had
talked with the South Korean government since the deal came to
light last week.
Washington has given all of Iran's major crude buyers
six-month exceptions to the sanctions in return for significant
reductions in their purchases of oil from the Islamic Republic.
South Korea's next review on the waiver is due in May.
Condensate imports were not included when South Korean and
U.S. officials discussed cuts in Iranian crude imports, a South
Korean official said.
But an executive order issued by President Barack Obama last
year gives the president the option to sanction those who buy
Samsung Total has declined to comment on the deal. But a
spokesman for Total in Paris said the group has complied with
all measures applicable to the group.