U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that China and Singapore are making progress in reducing their imports of Iranian oil as a deadline hit for the Obama administration to begin deciding whether to impose sanctions on the countries under a law aimed at pressuring Iran to prove its nuclear program is peaceful.
Speaking in Latvia on the day of the deadline, Clinton said China and Singapore shared the goal of keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. She said they have cut back on purchases of Iranian oil, but she gave no indication the two countries would get exemptions or receive a waiver based on national security considerations.
"We are actively working this issue," Clinton said.
"China and Singapore both share our goals of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and they appreciate that international sanctions and the pressure that these sanctions have brought to bear on the Iranian economy have been a key aspect of our dual-track policy over the years," she said.
"Both countries have announced steps that they have taken already in their own national interest to move on this important matter, and we're continuing to discuss and gather additional data on the implications of those steps," she added.
Clinton has already exempted nearly all of the world's major importers of Iranian oil except China and Singapore from the sanctions designed to choke the Iranian economy.
Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, India, Malaysia, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Turkey have been exempted, meaning that banks and other financial institutions based there will not be hit with penalties under U.S. law for a renewable 180-day period.
U.S. officials say Iran's oil exports have declined from about 2.5 million barrels a day last year to between 1.2 and 1.8 million barrels a day, reducing a main source of revenue for the regime, which remains defiant of international demands to come clean about its nuclear intentions.
The U.S. sanctions target foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank by barring them from opening or maintaining correspondent operations in the United States. They would apply to foreign central banks only for transactions that involve the sale or purchase of petroleum or petroleum products and then only if the administration determined that there is enough non-Iranian oil available to make up the difference without disrupting oil markets.