TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea and Japan will soon meet U.S. officials in Washington to ask how much oil they can import from Iran under new sanctions that leave the Asian nations with few alternative sources for energy, government officials said Wednesday.
Japan is the world's third biggest oil consumer, and South Korea is the fifth largest.
Both nations import significant amounts of crude from Iran, which they are under pressure to cut back to secure a waiver from a U.S. law imposing sanctions on financial institutions that trade with Iran's central bank.
Japan's foreign ministry said a delegation was due to hold talks in Washington Thursday as part of ongoing consultations and would seek clarity on the law, which is part of a raft of sanctions aimed at reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"We don't know what the Americans want until we hold the meeting," a government official said.
The official said Japan would explain the nature of its trade with Iran, as well as ask the United States to exempt Japanese banks from sanctions. No concrete steps are expected to be agreed upon, he added.
South Korea's foreign ministry said a technical team was planning to visit the United States to discuss the Iranian sanctions, but would not give details about the trip.
Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asian Affairs, told reporters in Seoul the United States was keen to discuss the specifics of its sanctions with Japan and Korea soon.
"We welcome a prospective South Korean team coming to Washington to discuss specific aspects of various energy related and financial interactions between South Korea and Iran," he said.
"We want to work closely with countries like South Korea and Japan who have particular vulnerabilities in this regard."
South Korea, a key U.S. ally, has warned the United States it would have difficulty replacing Iranian crude supplies.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will visit major oil producers Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates next week to try and secure alternative sources of energy.
(Reporting by Jeremy Laurence in Seoul and Tetsushi Kajimoto in Tokyo; Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Ed Lane)