SEOUL, June 26 (UPI) -- South Korea said Tuesday it will stop importing oil from Iran.
The move follows the European Union's decision Monday to ban any type of insurance for Iranian oil shipments as of Sunday as part of a sanctions regime by the EU and the United States aimed at punishing Iran for its nuclear program.
European companies have a near monopoly on insuring oil tankers.
The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said its dependence on European insurers to cover cargo and ships ranges from 70-90 percent, the Financial Times reports.
"The government has been in active and continuous dialogue with other oil exporting nations to secure alternative sources of oil," the ministry said in a news release. "It will continue its efforts to help minimize the impact on the country's economy and businesses."
In 2011, South Korea imported 87.18 million barrels of oil from Iran, an increase of 20.1 percent from a year earlier.
"Most of the Iranian oil has already been replaced by Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates and also imports from the spot market, although still some is left to be covered," Moon Jae-do, South Korean deputy minister for international affairs, told a briefing.
South Korea, the fourth-largest buyer of Iranian crude, is the first Asian country to suspend oil purchases from Iran.
Together, China, India, Japan and South Korea had accounted for more than 60 percent of Iranian oil imports.
Last week Japan's Parliament passed a bill providing $7.6 billion of state guarantees for shipments of oil from Iran, which, if it becomes law, would provide a cover for the axed EU insurance.
India intends to allow state refiners to import Iranian oil, with Tehran handling shipping and insurance beginning in July. China has asked Iran to deliver the oil for its imports.
China has defended its oil imports from Iran.
"China's importing of Iranian oil is based on its own economic development needs," said Hong Lei, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry told a daily news briefing last Thursday, state-run media Xinhua reports. "This is fully reasonable and legitimate."
Hong said that China has always been against one country imposing unilateral sanctions, adding that it is "even less acceptable for such unilateral sanctions to be imposed on a third country," a position, he said, which China has repeatedly made known.
"China's imports do not undermine the interests of a third party nor do they go against any relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions," Hong said.