"South Korea does not want its ties with Tehran to irk the U.S., so it made great efforts to persuade the Obama administration to give it an exemption. Iran is probably the most important Middle Eastern country for South Korea, and it is very difficult for South Korea to sever its ties with Iran because it offers cheaper oil," said Chang Byung-ock, an Iran expert at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.
The 27-nation EU accounted for 18 percent of Iran's exports, or about 450,000 barrels a day. Add that to the reductions in Asia — more than half of Iran's oil exports before the EU sanctions — and Iran has lost a significant, but not yet crippling, portion of its oil revenue.
According to the International Energy Agency, a 28-nation group that monitors global energy trends, Iran's crude oil production has fallen steadily since May to 2.9 million barrels a day in July, dropping Iran to the No. 3 spot behind resurgent Iraq.
Meanwhile, imports of Iranian oil by major consumers plunged to 1 million barrels a day in July from 1.74 million barrels a day in June, according to an Aug. 10 report from the agency, which did not give a country-by-country breakdown.
In late July — about a month after the EU halted Iranian oil purchases — Iran's central bank chief, Mahmoud Bahmani, called Western sanctions akin to a "military war" that requires new economic countermeasures in return. These likely will include boosting sales of petrochemical products, such as motor oil, that are not covered by sanctions, as well as expansive diplomatic efforts to secure oil markets in China and India.
The latter is set to take center stage with the Indian prime minister's appearance at the Aug. 30-31 meeting in Tehran of the Non-Aligned Movement, a Cold War relic that Iran seeks to rebuild as a counterpoint to Western influence.
India has faced a full-scale press from both sides.
In May, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped in India and made repeated appeals for Iran's No. 2 oil customer to scale back on its purchases. India has curbed some of its Iranian imports — agreeing after Clinton's visit to an 11 percent drop in the coming year. But there are limits to how far India can go as it struggles with a widening deficit and weak rupee, which drives up the costs of oil imports.
India has joined Japan in offering government-backed insurance for ships carrying Iranian crude, to bypass European sanctions that prohibit EU companies from offering coverage. The move seeks to avoid interruptions in the Iranian oil supply, with the first shipment by a government-insured tanker scheduled to arrive in India this week.
Japan was the first country to devise a workaround to the EU sanctions, passing the emergency measure in late June to avoid a disruption in critical oil supplies due to actions against Iran.
Any potential economic lifelines for Iran are likely to feed into calls by Israelis favoring a military strike on Iran. At the same time, opponents of military action have become increasingly outspoken as signs point to a war footing, such as the opening of new gas mask distribution centers in the Jewish state.
"Iran tries to present an image of having some kind of network of relationships with outside countries, and say they are not as vulnerable," said Eldad Pardo, an Iranian affairs expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "But the facts on the ground show they are under a lot of pressure."
Associated Press writers Pamela Sampson and Vijay Joshi in Bangkok, Erika Kinetz in New Delhi, Blake Sobczak in Jerusalem and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
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