SEOUL - South Korea, a key US ally, shrank from the prospect of paying more for oil to feed its heavy industry on Tuesday as the United States upped pressure on Asian buyers to cut imports from Iran.
Washington wants Asia to cut crude imports in a bid to halt what it says are Iran's nuclear ambitions and has already secured agreement from European Union states to reduce Iranian imports.
South Korea, which depends on the United States for its security, is the world's fifth-largest oil importer with around 10 percent of its crude oil coming from Iran in the first 11 months of 2011. It also has billions of dollars of Iranian oil money tied up in its banking system.
"Many in South Korea are quite worried that further strengthening sanctions in Iran at this time will destabilize international markets of crude oil and bring about adverse effects on the economy," Kim Jae-shin, deputy minister of foreign affairs and trade, told US officials.