SEOUL, March 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's imports of Iranian crude oil more than quadrupled in February from a month ago, nearing a level before U.S. sanctions on Tehran, government data showed Tuesday.
Asia's fourth-largest economy imported US$476 million worth of crude from the Middle Eastern country last month, according to the data from the Korea Customs Service.
The figure is more than four times the $101 million posted in January but lower than the $621 million recorded a year earlier.
The amount is also close to the average import value of $539 million during the January-July period last year ahead of the U.S. sanctions.
South Korea was not able to bring in Iranian crude between September and December last year due to the reinstated sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.
Seoul resumed imports of Iranian crude in January this year, two months after Washington reinstated all Iranian sanctions removed under a 2016 nuclear deal but allowed South Korea and seven other countries to continue to buy Iranian oil over the next six months.
A government official said imports of Iranian crude probably jumped in February from the prior month as local refiners concluded import negotiations.
Industry watchers predicted South Korean imports of Iranian oil to fluctuate for the time being due to continued U.S. pressure on Iran.
Washington is reported to have plans to pressure the eight countries to scale back their imports of Iranian crude. The U.S. adjusts their import quotas every six months, with the next adjustment slated for May.
Condensate accounts for nearly 70 percent of South Korean imports of Iranian crude. Naphtha, a key raw material for petrochemicals, is derived from condensate.
Iranian condensate, preferred by South Korean oil refiners and petrochemicals firms, took up 51 percent of Seoul's total condensate imports during the first quarter of last year.
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