Seoul: South Korea expects to receive an exemption from new US sanctions against Iran after significantly cutting its imports of Iranian crude oil, a senior foreign ministry official said on Wednesday.

As part of efforts to pressurise Tehran over its nuclear programme, a US law taking effect next month will impose sanctions on nations buying Iranian oil unless they can show such reductions.

So far, Washington has exempted 11 nations including Japan and a number of European countries.

"A final decision has yet to come but we are receiving a positive signal from the US side," the official involved in talks with Washington said on condition of anonymity.

"We cannot say exactly when the decision will be announced. It could be this week or next week."

South Korea, which has no domestic oil resources, wants to cut shipments from Iran rather than completely halt them since they make up about 10 percent of its total crude imports.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said imports of Iranian crude fell 22 percent in the first quarter compared to a year earlier, to 17.73 million barrels.

In April imports jumped 42 percent year-on-year to 7.5 million barrels, but the ministry said the rise was temporary and would decrease in May.

"The government acknowledges the need to reduce imports of Iranian crude oil as a way of participating in international efforts toward a peaceful resolution of Iran's nuclear problem," it said in a statement.

Related ministries are holding talks about the size of the cut, it said. Seoul has separately sought an exemption from an EU embargo that could effectively halt shipments of Iranian oil from July 1.

The EU will ban European firms from insuring or reinsuring tankers transporting Iranian oil anywhere in the world -- a move that could mean Korean refiners are unable to import supplies.

Talks with the EU have been difficult; an unidentified Seoul official said, adding "considering the progress made until now, we think it would not be easy to secure a waiver from the reinsurance embargo".


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