* Asia's Jan-Sept Iran oil imports fall to 953,567 bpd
* Asian buyers Iran Sept imports jump 30 pct to 1.2 mln bpd
* Waiver reviews on U.S. sanctions due Nov-Dec
* No let-up on sanctions amid renewed talks with Iran
(Adds comments on cuts and sanctions likely to continue,
details on imports)
By Osamu Tsukimori and Yuka Obayashi
TOKYO, Oct 31 Asia's top buyers of Iranian crude
have reduced purchases by 11.5 percent so far this year, and
shipments are set to fall further even after tentative signs of
better relations between Tehran and Washington.
Despite Iran's apparent willingness to compromise on its
nuclear programme, the United States has not relaxed pressure on
Iranian oil importers in Asia to keep cutting purchases.
Tough U.S. and the European Union sanctions have cut Iran's
oil exports by over a million barrels per day and cost the
country billions of dollars a month in lost revenue. The U.S.
believes the impact on Iran's economy has forced Tehran to the
negotiating table, and sources say the U.S. is unlikely to allow
exports to rise before striking a deal on the nuclear programme.
Until then, Asian buyers need to show the United States
evidence of continuous reductions in purchases from the OPEC
member to qualify for a waiver from sanctions every six months.
"We will maintain our current stance until the United States
takes actual action to ease sanctions," said a source at a north
Asian buyer of Iranian crude. "There have been hopes that U.S.
sanctions against Iranian oil import will be eased, but we can't
change our trading policy only with hopes."
China, India and South Korea - three of Tehran's top four
clients - have rebuffed Iranian offers for more oil, industry
sources said. The United States is due to review their
compliance with sanctions soon, and there is no need for them to
boost Iranian purchases amid plentiful supply of alternatives.
"We haven't received any word from the United States about
letting us increase Iran oil imports," said another Asian buyer.
"It seems that mood is getting better, but I think any
increase (in the Iranian oil import) is likely to happen when
the sanctions are lifted."
The four major Asian buyers between January and September
imported 953,567 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude, down
11.5 percent from the same nine months in 2012, according to
government statistics and oil tanker arrival schedules.
Iran's oil sales are expected to fall sharply in October to
their lowest in months at about 719,000 bpd, according to
sources who track preliminary tanker loading plans.
That will come after a September rise in imports by the top
four to 1.16 million bpd, a 30.2 percent jump from a year ago.
This was in part due to an increase from India, where insurance
issues had reduced imports to a trickle for months.
The European Union and the United States believe Iran is
developing nuclear weapons, while Iran says its programme is for
Nuclear experts from Iran and six big powers began talks on
Wednesday, aiming to build on diplomatic momentum towards
negotiating a peaceful solution to the dispute over Iran's
Despite much friendlier contacts between the sides since
Hassan Rouhani took office as Iranian president with a pledge to
reduce tension with the West, major differences still need to be
overcome before a breakthrough can be reached.
Top White House administration officials have been pushing
U.S. lawmakers to hold off on new sanctions over Iran's nuclear
programme, but some key lawmakers said on Wednesday now was not
the time to ease up on pressure.
Of the top four buyers, China, the biggest, would need to
make huge cuts in its Iranian oil imports over the last quarter
if it is to meet an unofficial target for 2013 and increase its
chances for winning a waiver in December.
China's intake from Iran is running 1.4 percent higher than
last year through the end of September, while officials have
said refiners are likely to cut the imports 5-10 percent for the
India, Iran's No. 2 buyer is better off. Its crude imports
from Iran fell 40 percent in the first nine months of this
South Korea's imports remain close to a commitment the
country made to the U.S. to cut shipments for the June-November
period by 15 percent.
Japan's crude imports from Iran in September rose 35 percent
from a year earlier to 252,216 barrels per day, Ministry of
Economy, Trade and Industry data showed on Thursday. Imports for
the first nine months of 2013 were up 2 percent on the year at
194,936 bpd, the data showed.
Japan, too, will have to cut sharply for the remainder of
2013 to reduce average daily imports below last year's level.
"I don't know how the things are going to be in reality,"
said a Japanese government official. "But theoretically
speaking, the strict sanctions would likely mean demanding more
cuts in Iranian oil imports from us buyers."
(Additional reporting by James Topham and Aaron Sheldrick in
TOKYO, Meeyoung Cho in SEOUL; Writing by Manash Goswami; Editing
by Tom Hogue and Simon Webb)