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Japanese and Korean refiners intend to resume imports of Iranian crude oil from January next year after receiving exemptions from U.S. sanctions against Iran, sources familiar with the matter said.
Iranian crude oil imports unexpectedly rebounded due to exemptions, which led to spot prices of crude oil and condensate in the Middle East falling to the lowest level in more than a year.
In November, the United States granted eight countries immunity to import Iranian crude oil for 180 days. Japan and South Korea, one of Iran's top five buyers of crude oil and condensate, stopped importing in the third quarter before the sanctions.
Industry sources say South Korean refiners will keep Iranian oil imports at zero levels by the end of the year and may resume imports at the end of January or early February, as buyers are negotiating with Iran to sign new contracts.
"They are looking for the best price and are negotiating with Iran," said one person familiar with the matter. "He said that most of the tankers had been scheduled until December, so South Korea could ship Iranian crude oil as early as January.
Oil from Iran takes about 25 days to reach South Korea. Iran can also choose to sell oil stored in Dalian, China, which will shorten delivery time.
Last week, a South Korean delegation was in Iran to negotiate a major supply of condensate from South Pars in 2019.
The second source said: "Some problems need to be solved, such as payment. We can't buy it now, nor are we in a hurry to buy it. Iran is also trying not to sell at a lower price. We... Iranian oil may not be imported until January next year. "