In a nut shell:
Japan caves in to U.S. pledging to buy less oil from Iran. [Thumbs down]
Korea walks a tight rope keeping U.S. happy while actually planing to buy more oil [thumbs up]
India ignores U.S. and plans on purchasing oil from Iran as she feels fit [clapping]
..............Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi said Iranian crude makes up 10 percent of Japan’s overall oil imports.
“We would like to take action concretely to further reduce (that) in a planned manner,” he said after meeting Geithner.
“On the other hand, we need some time in non-crude oil related areas, so I asked the Secretary to take Japan’s situation into consideration.”
Cutting Iranian crude imports would not be without risks for Japan. It relies on imports for its energy needs and has to import more fuel to make up for waning use of nuclear power following last year’s nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima.
“It would cause immense damage if they were cut to zero,” Azumi said in a news conference, referring to Japan’s Iranian imports.
Anxiety over Iran’s nuclear programme, which it says is not for military use, could also push up oil prices and harm the global economy.
Indeed, Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda voiced concern to Geithner about the potential impact of the US sanctions on Japan and the world economy.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, the government’s top spokesman, later tried to soften Azumi’s pledge to reduce Iranian oil imports, saying it was one of many options under consideration.
India meanwhile says it will keep doing business with Tehran and sees no reason to seek a waiver that would protect buyers of Iranian oil from a fresh round of US sanctions, a senior Indian cabinet minister said on Thursday.
“Why should we seek waiver from the US? We have done business with Iran earlier and will continue to do business,” the minister, who has knowledge of the matter but did not want to be named as the matter is confidential, told Reuters.
The minister said government officials would visit Iran next week and find ways to pay for oil without contravening US financial measures designed to hinder the trade.
The comments partly echo industry sources who told Reuters on Wednesday that New Delhi may not seek a waiver from the latest US sanctions.
India, which imports about 12 percent of its oil needs, or 350,000-400,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Iran, has been struggling to pay for it owing to sanctions on dealings with Iran, government officials have said previously.
New US laws authorised on Dec. 31 impose sanctions on financial institutions dealing with Iran’s central bank, the main clearing house for the country’s oil payments. That is widely expected to make it even tougher for importers to pay for Iran crude.
India’s Iran oil imports are worth about $12 billion annually.
India currently pays for Iran crude through Turkey’s Halkbank, a mechanism government officials have said may be cut off by the latest round of sanctions.
Halkbank has already refused to open an account for state-run Bharat Petroleum Corp for oil from Iran.
The US law, however, allows waivers to firms in countries that significantly reduce dealings with Iran, or at any time when it is either in the US national interest or necessary for energy market stability.
An Indian delegation will visit Tehran from Jan. 16-21 to explore alternative routes of payment to ensure supplies without breaching sanctions, government officials said on Wednesday.
South Korea’s prime minister will visit Oman and the United Arab Emirates from Friday to discuss oil supply, as Seoul seeks a waiver from toughened US sanctions on Iran and looks into options including reducing crude imports from Tehran.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude importer, buys 10 percent of its oil from Iran.
The country’s knowledge economy minister Hong Suk-woo told Reuters “it was too early to say” if Seoul would reduce oil imports from Iran.
“Our basic stance is to cooperate with the US” Hong told Reuters on the sidelines of a local industry event, adding officials from the two countries would meet next week to talk about “concrete measures”.
The State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, Robert Einhorn, will arrive in Seoul on Monday for a three-day visit to explain Washington’s new sanctions on Iran, the foreign ministry said.
It said South Korea was planning to ask for Washington’s cooperation in minimizing the sanctions’ economic impact on local firms, and a source at the ministry of knowledge economy said discussions were underway ahead of the US talks.
“We are currently considering various measures to cope if we need to reduce Iranian oil imports, if so, by how much, and if not, how we can deal with this matter,” the source, who has direct knowledge of the matter, said.
Korean refiners have struck deals for 2012 supplies with Iran for slightly more than they purchased last year, but are also keeping an eye out for potential replacements, according to company and industry sources earlier this month.