The Obama administration said Friday it was helping South Korea and other nations look for new energy sources to wean themselves from Iranian oil so they can contribute to a U.S.-led effort to chip away at the $100 billion in oil revenues Tehran earned last year.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the goals of U.S. sanctions against Iran are simple: to stop the flow of cash to Tehran and demonstrate global unity against the Islamic republic's nuclear program.
American legislation demands countries around the world cut their oil intake from Iran, but Asian countries that purchase the majority of Iranian oil are resisting severe changes that might hurt their economies.
"No country understands the threat of nuclear weapons from a neighbor better than" South Korea, Clinton said after a meeting at the State Department with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.
"We recognize the difficult decisions and even the sacrifices that we are asking from other countries in order to increase this pressure on Iran," she told reporters. "Reining in a dangerous government is not easy."
U.S. efforts to get Asian countries, allies and competitors alike, to cut their oil imports from Iran have been difficult. In 2011, Japan, South Korea, India and China accounted for 60 percent of Iran's oil sales.
The U.S. and its allies want to squeeze Iran into giving up what it believes is Iran's march toward building a nuclear weapon. The U.S. believes Iran has the capability of building a nuclear bomb but hasn't decided to do so. Israel has advocated a pre-emptive strike on Iran to prevent the Islamic Republic from ever building one.
Alone, South Korea bought about 250,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil, accounting for 10 percent of its total oil imports. Its foreign ministry has said that no decision has yet been made on the U.S. request, fearful of being able to find alternative suppliers to fill in the gap left by Iranian crude.
"We are participating in the sanctions on Iran, and we'll keep discussing the specific measures to do that," Kim said.
Clinton said the U.S. was helping South Korea in its search for other energy sources.
American diplomats have been working hard to convince Saudi Arabia or other oil-producing countries to add more oil to the global market, and Clinton said the U.S. was engaging with its "oil-producing partners about boosting production to shore up price stability and offer alternative avenues of supply."
She stressed that talks between Washington and Seoul have been defined by cooperation, not confrontation, thanking South Korea for its help "in building a global coalition to pressure Iran to change course."