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S Korean president to visit Qatar to secure oil supp



SOUTH Korean President Lee Myungbak plans to visit key oil producers in the Middle East next month in a bid to secure a stable source of energy supplies and for broader cooperation in economic affairs, the presidential office said on Monday.

Lee’s visit comes amid rising pressure on South Korea to sharply reduce or discontinue crude supplies from Iran, after US President Barack Obama signed a law in December imposing sanctions on banks that trade with Iran’s central bank, through which much of its oil sales are cleared.

Lee will be visiting Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during the February 7-10 period, the office said in a statement.

Finance Minister Bahk Jae-wan said earlier in the day that talks with the US on reducing crude imports from Iran will take some time to be resolved. The extent of the cut sought isn’t clear.

Saudi Arabia has promised to increase output if necessary, while the United Arab Emirates has also pledged assistance, but much needs to be done to diversify Korea’s sources of crude, he said.

Data from Korea National Oil Corp.

show Saudi Arabia was the country’s top supplier in 2011, followed by Kuwait and Qatar, accounting for 31.4 percent, 12.7 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Iran accounted for 9.4 percent.

The government previously cited Kuwait and Iraq as possible alternative sources.

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