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 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 told AFP 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 per cent of its total crude imports.
The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said imports of Iranian crude fell 22 per cent in the first quarter compared to a year earlier, to 17.73 million barrels.
In April imports jumped 42 per cent 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 1 July.
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, Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified Seoul official as saying, adding "considering the progress made until now, we think it would not be easy to secure a waiver from the reinsurance embargo".
EU foreign ministers will hold a meeting on the issue in mid-June and South Korea "will make a final pitch until then to extend the reinsurance service by two months", the official said.