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Iran threatens to stop imports from South Korea over oil halt

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
updated 4:28 AM EDT, Wed June 27, 2012
South Korea is the first major consumer of Iranian oil in Asia to suspend all imports.
South Korea is the first major consumer of Iranian oil in Asia to suspend all imports.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • South Korea is the first major Asian consumer of Iranian oil to stop imports
  • Seoul's decision follows an insurance ban by the EU on tankers carrying Iran's crude
  • Tehran says it may respond by deciding to "fully stop importing Korean goods"
  • Western powers are using sanctions to pressure Tehran over its nuclear program

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- Iran threatened Wednesday to halt all imports of goods from South Korea in response to Seoul's announcement a day earlier that it would stop accepting Iranian oil.

South Korea said Tuesday that it would suspend all Iranian oil imports from the start of July in response to a European Union insurance ban on tankers carrying crude from Iran.

The Iranian ambassador to South Korea, Ahmad Masumifar, responded by saying in an interview with the South Korean news agency Yonhap on Wednesday that Tehran "may decide to fully stop importing Korean goods."

Reached by telephone, an official at the press office of the Iranian Embassy in Seoul confirmed Masumifar had made the comments to Yonnhap but declined to elaborate further.

The EU and United States have been widening sanctions against Iran recently to put pressure on Tehran to curtail its nuclear program.

Western powers say they believe the program is intended to build nuclear weapons, but Iran insists it is for peaceful purposes.

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South Korea is the first major consumer of Iranian oil in Asia to suspend all imports. In 2010, it was the fourth biggest importer of Iranian oil, according to an official from the South Korean Knowledge Economy Ministry. Figures for 2011 aren't yet available, the official said.

Iran's other big oil customers in the region are Japan, China and India -- none of which have announced plans to stop receiving shipments.

The Knowledge Economy Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it relies heavily on European companies for insurance of its oil imports and has sent representatives to the EU to make the case for continuing insurance coverage.

"The government has been putting contingency plans in place in case Iranian oil imports would be stopped," the statement said. Alternative supplies are being sourced from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait.

South Korea already lowered its Iranian oil imports by 44% between January and May -- from 7 million barrels to 3.9 million barrels -- to try to lessen its dependence on them, according to government figures.

CNN's K.J. Kwon contributed to this report.

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