(Adds detail, background)
* Imports 686,849 T of Iranian crude in June vs. 1.15 mln T yr ago
* H1 oil imports from Iran drop 33.9 pct on year to 6.13 mln T
* S.Korea buyers cut Iran oil purchases ahead of U.S. sanctions
* June total crude imports up 13.2 pct to 13.14 mln T on year
By Jane Chung
SEOUL, July 15 (Reuters) - South Korea’s imports of Iranian oil fell 40.3 percent in June from the same month a year ago to their lowest since January 2015, as the country’s buyers’ slashed purchases ahead of the reimposition of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran.
South Korea, one of Asia’s major Iranian oil customers, imported 686,849 tonnes of Iranian crude in June, or 167,820 barrels per day (bpd), compared with 1.15 million tonnes in June 2017, customs office data showed on Sunday. That was down 9.5 percent from May.
In the first half of this year, South Korea’s intake of Iranian crude slid 33.9 percent compared with the same period last year to 6.13 million tonnes, or 248,367 bpd, according to the data.
The drop comes after U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said it would pull out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and renew tough economic sanctions on Tehran.
Seoul has since been in talks to get an exemption from the United States in a bid to avert any adverse impact from halting Iranian oil imports. In August, people familiar with the matter have said, South Korea’s Iranian oil imports could be zero for the first time in six years.
South Korea mainly purchases an ultra-light form of crude oil, known as condensate, from Iran, and its data does not give a breakdown by products.
In 2012, South Korea managed to get a waiver on the previous round of sanctions by importing limited amounts of Iranian oil during that time. Those sanctions were lifted in 2016.
In total, South Korea’s June crude imports were 13.14 million tonnes, or 3.21 million bpd, up 13.2 percent from 11.61 million tonnes in the same month last year.
From Saudi Arabia, South Korea’s top crude supplier, crude imports in June rose 26.1 percent to 4.38 million tonnes, or 1.07 million bpd, from last year. Shipments from Mexico showed a nearly fivefold increase to 568,377 tonnes.
South Korea’s crude imports in the first six months of this year were 74.11 million tonnes, or 3 million bpd, up 2.7 percent from 72.17 million tonnes during the same period in 2017, according to the data.
The country’s final June crude imports numbers are due to be released by state-run Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC) later this month. (Reporting by Jane Chung Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Jonathan Oatis)