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Saudi oil minister pledges Seoul stable crude supply

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 8, 2012 - 14:28

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RIYADH (Yonhap News) ― Saudi Arabia’s oil minister promised Tuesday to help ensure a stable supply of crude to South Korea, officials said, as Seoul prepares to cut back on imports from Iran in line with U.S. sanctions.

Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali al-Naimi made the commitment during a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, the presidential office said. Lee arrived in the Saudi capital earlier in the day for a three-day visit.

The pledge is expected to help alleviate concerns in South Korea that a drastic cut in oil imports from Iran, which is accused of seeking illicit nuclear programs, could harm its slowing economy. South Korea relies on imports for all its oil needs and Iranian crude accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s total oil imports.

“Regarding oil supply-demand, we will meet any request and additional demand from South Korea,” al-Naimi said during the meeting with Lee, according to senior presidential press secretary Choe Geum-nak.
President Lee Myung-bak is greeted by Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi before their talks on a stable supply of oil to South Korea in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Tuesday. (Yonhap News) President Lee Myung-bak is greeted by Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi before their talks on a stable supply of oil to South Korea in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)

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, according to the official.

Washington has been trying to drum up international support for its campaign to dry up Iran’s oil export revenues as punishment and pressure over the country’s alleged nuclear weapons programs. Iran claims its nuclear programs are for peaceful purposes.

Lee will later visit Qatar and the United Arab Emirates on similar missions.

South Korea gets about one third of its crude imports from Saudi Arabia. Together with Qatar and the UAE, the three countries account for about half of Seoul’s total oil imports.

Officials have said they are optimistic about securing commitment from the three nations to increase their oil production to make up for the shortfall in South Korea’s oil imports because the countries are also concerned about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The visit to Riyadh will include talks with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Wednesday about boosting cooperation in energy, construction, defense and health care areas, the presidential office said. A separate meeting with the Saudi defense minister is also planned.

During a meeting with South Korean residents in Saudi Arabia earlier, Lee said that his trip to the three Middle Eastern nations is part of his efforts to help Asia’s fourth-largest economy overcome the global economic crisis.

“How South Korea will overcome the crisis is a big task for the government,” Lee said. “At the time of the 2008 crisis when all other countries saw their economies contract, we surprised the world with growth ... If we overcome the global crisis in 2012 again, the status of our country will rise.”

“I am determined to work harder than any other heads of state to overcome the crisis this year, including visiting the three Middle Eastern nations,” he said.