The United States will announce a new list of countries that will receive exceptions to financial sanctions on oil trade with Iran as soon as early next week, a government official said on Thursday.
Not all of Iran's oil buyers are likely to get the waivers, said the source, who declined to elaborate. Around two thirds of Iran's crude exports flow to Asia, where the biggest buyers are China, Japan, India and South Korea.
The United States granted Japan an exception in March and has signaled it has had good talks with South Korea about reducing oil purchases. Refiners in South Korea will switch to other sources on July 1, industry sources have said.
But the U.S. may withhold waivers for China and Singapore, according to an advocate of tougher sanctions on Iran, stepping up pressure on Iran's biggest crude oil buyer and a major destination for its fuel oil exports.
Mark Dubowitz, the advocate and head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said he expected all of Iran's other oil buyers would eventually get the exceptions.
He believes China has received some clandestine cargoes from Iran. Tehran has withheld the destination of some oil shipments by disabling tracking systems on its tanker fleet, according to shipping and trading sources.
The United States would be better off delaying a decision on China, he said, than to grant an exception now and be forced not to renew it later when more evidence of the shipments could come to light.
Singapore is not a big consumer of oil, but it is a major blender of fuel, including some from Iran.