Washington: The US has said it was granting 6-month sanctions exemptions to 10 European countries so they can restart imports of Iranian crude oil after a year`s hiatus.
Japan received a similar exemption after the US yesterday said it had significantly reduced its oil imports from Iran the main condition for such waivers.
American sanctions are designed to pressure Iran to curb its nuclear program, which Washington suspects is aimed at producing weapons. Iran has repeatedly insisted it is only for generating electricity and medical research.
The most ambitious US tactic has involved pressuring countries around the world to cut commercial ties with Iran or face a series of restrictions on what type of business they can conduct in the United States, the world`s largest market.
But the Obama administration has been granting exemptions to a number of mostly Asian countries that rely on Iranian oil on condition that they significantly reduce their imports over time.
The entire European Union has not purchased Iranian oil since July 1, 2012, the US State Department said in a statement.
Because of that reduction, the US said 10 EU countries had qualified for 6-month sanctions exemptions: Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Britain.
The State Department said a total of 20 countries have continued to significantly reduce their crude oil purchases from Iran.
China remains Iran`s top trading partner and its No. 1 client for oil exports, with Japan, India and South Korea among other top purchasers.
Despite plummeting sales overseas, Iran remains one of the world`s largest oil producers. Its exports bring in tens of billions of dollars in revenue for the country`s hard-line leaders, money the US is trying to cut off.
A senior US official said last week that sanctions have reduced Iranian oil exports by 58 per cent since late 2011. He also said the US has concluded that nearly half of Iran`s monthly earnings from crude oil exports are accumulating in accounts overseas because of sanctions that restrict Tehran`s access to the money.
But economists said Iran is also finding ways to work around sanctions, for example by increasing exports of non-oil, non-sanctioned goods.