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* Top Asian buyers' Jan-Aug Iran oil imports fall to 927,860
* Asia's Iranian imports at 865,650 bpd for Aug, up 30 pct
* U.S.-Iran talks unlikely to lead to quick import boost
By James Topham
TOKYO, Sept 30 Iran's top four crude buyers cut
their purchases by 16 percent in the first eight months of the
year, with oil shipments set to remain under pressure from
sanctions, despite tentative signs of better relations between
Tehran and Washington.
Western sanctions have forced China, India, Japan and South
Korea to reduce their reliance on Iranian oil, more than halving
the OPEC nation's exports since early 2012 and costing it
billions of dollars a month in lost revenue.
The European Union and the United States believe Iran is
developing nuclear weapons, while Iran says its programme is for
On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President
Hassan Rouhani spoke by telephone, the highest-level contact
between the two countries in decades and the culmination of a
dramatic shift in tone that began in August.
"It's still a long way to go in terms of supplies of Iranian
oil really starting to enter the market," said Jonathan Barratt,
chief executive of Sydney-based commodity research firm
"You've had (about) 25 years of embargoes and concerns out
of the region and that sort of thing will probably weigh on
people's minds and not be fixed overnight."
The United States cut diplomatic relations with Iran a year
after the 1979 revolution that toppled U.S. ally Shah Mohammad
Reza Pahlavi and led to the U.S. hostage crisis in Tehran.
Friday's call between Obama and Rouhani came after earlier
remarks by the new Iranian president, who said he wanted talks
with major powers on Iran's nuclear programme to yield "tangible
results" in a short period of time.
Still, any progress between Tehran and Washington towards a
new agreement on Iran's nuclear programme is likely to be slow,
difficult and fragile.
The four major Asian buyers between January and August
imported 927,860 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude, down 16
percent from the same eight months in 2012, according to
government statistics and oil tanker arrival schedules.
The four imported 865,650 bpd of Iranian oil in August, up
nearly a third from a year earlier, the data showed. The big
monthly jump was mostly due to South Korea not taking any
Iranian crude in August 2012 because of EU restrictions on
U.S. and EU measures have made it difficult for China,
India, Japan and South Korea to insure oil shipments and have
forced them to find new ways to pay Tehran since the Middle
Eastern nation has no access to international banking networks.
The EU sanctions that prevent euro zone reinsurers from
backing coverage for tankers carrying Iranian oil and refineries
processing it have been some of the most effective measures in
curtailing Tehran's exports. Importers would need to see those
restrictions ease along with the U.S. sanctions before they
could start taking the oil in pre-2012 levels again.
To win waivers from the U.S. sanctions, buyers must
continually reduce their shipments. Japan won its fourth
six-month waiver at the beginning of September, while the other
three will be up for a renewal of exemptions in early December.
Japan, the last of the four to release oil import data for
August, shipped in 214,879 bpd of Iranian crude for the month,
its trade ministry said on Monday. Its oil imports from Iran
fell 2 percent year-on-year to 187,860 bpd for the
In a sign that pressure is likely to continue on Iranian
imports, an industry source said last week that Japan's top
buyer of Iranian crude, JX Holdings, was set to cut its
annual contract with the Middle Eastern producer for next year
by nearly 20 percent.
In India, only two refiners - Essar Oil and
Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemical Ltd - are now
importing Iranian oil, with the intake of crude down more than
40 percent to date in 2013.
Another former buyer of Iran's oil, Hindustan Petroleum Corp
Ltd, has said it does not intend to resume imports,
having found suitable substitutes during halts over refining and
shipping insurance issues.
South Korea, meanwhile, is near to making cuts of 15 percent
for the six months through to the end of November compared with
the December-May period, its unofficial target for winning a new
waiver on U.S. sanctions.
South Korea's imports from Iran between January and August
were down 14 percent from the same period last year, according
to data from state-run Korean National Oil Corp.
Chinese refiners have reduced their January-August imports
from Iran by only about one percent from a year ago, but at
422,300 bpd, imports are not far off a minimum cut target of 5
percent from the previous year's levels.
(Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Tom Hogue)