Saudi Arabia has pledged to ensure a stable supply of oil to South Korea, which is under pressure from the United States to reduce purchases from Iran, a report said on Wednesday.
The assurances came as South Korea’s President Lee Myung-Bak held talks in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday with Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi and the head of Saudi state oil giant Aramco, Khalid al-Faleh.
They discussed “means of bilateral cooperation between both countries,” Saudi state news agency SPA said without giving further details.
But South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a senior official as saying Naimi had “promised to help ensure a stable supply of crude to South Korea.”
“Regarding oil supply-demand, we will meet any request and additional demand from South Korea,” senior South Korean presidential press secretary Choe Geum-nak quoted Naimi as saying.
“Lee asked for Saudi’s support for a stable supply of crude oil to South Korea in case of a contingency, stressing that a rise in oil prices at a time of global economic difficulty could deal a blow to the world economy,” Yonhap quoted the official as saying.
Washington wants close ally Seoul to reduce purchases of Iranian crude in line with a US-led drive to sanction Tehran for its suspected nuclear weapons programme.
Naimi said last month that Saudi Arabia was ready to make up for any shortfall in Iran’s oil exports under new Western sanctions, an announcement that prompted Tehran to urge Riyadh to “reflect” on its vow.
South Korea, the world’s fifth largest oil importer, accounts for around 10 percent of Iran’s oil exports but has yet to cut the imports of Iranian oil due to fears of economic damage.
In 2011, top world oil exporter Saudi Arabia exported 270 million barrels of oil to South Korea, accounting for 31.4 percent of Seoul’s entire oil imports.
Lee is expected to meet King Abdullah and Saudi Arabia’s defence minister on Wednesday for talks “about boosting cooperation in energy, construction, defence and health care areas,” South Korea’s presidential office said.
He will also visit the kingdom’s gas-rich neighbour Qatar on Thursday and make a stop in the United Arab Emirates on his way home.
“I am determined to work harder than any other heads of state to overcome the (global financial) crisis this year, including visiting the three Middle Eastern nations,” Lee said during a meeting with South Korean residents in Saudi Arabia.