South Korea's president is to visit Saudi Arabia and two other Gulf oil producers in an attempt to secure stable sources of energy. The trip will come as Seoul is considering reducing imports from Iran in line with U.S.-led sanctions. But the government of South Korea, heavily dependent on energy supplies from abroad, is expressing caution about the international movement to punish Iran for its alleged nuclear weapons development.
South Korea's presidential office says Lee Myung-bak will embark Saturday on a week-long visit to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The trip will come as South Korea seeks to secure alternative supplies to Iranian oil.
The European Union is to stop importing Iranian oil in July, to put pressure on Tehran to stop enriching uranium.
The United States is hoping other countries will follow, including its key allies in East Asia, South Korea and Japan.
South Korean Finance Minister Bahk Jae-wan says Iran's nuclear development poses a threat to humanity. But he says Seoul has made no decision on how much it will further cut crude imports from Iran.
The finance minister says there is still no consensus, even within the U.S. government, on what constitutes the mandated “significant reductions” in the sanctions package signed into law by President Barack Obama late last year.
Both South Korea, the world's fifth largest oil importer, and Japan, number two in that category, are facing pressure from domestic interests worried about higher oil prices.
Officials in both capitals have been exploring with visiting American envoys whether they can be granted exemptions in the national security interest of the United States.
The price of Iranian crude was hovering near $100 a barrel in Asian trading Monday amid a warning from the head of Iran's oil company that the embargo could send the price higher by as much as 50 percent.
Meanwhile, the finance minister of India, the world's fourth largest oil consumer, has announced his country cannot do without crude from Iran and will not cut imports.
Iran says it might halt exports to some unspecified countries ahead of the implementation of the embargo on its oil.
The Islamic Republic rejects the accusations it is attempting to build a nuclear weapon. It says its nuclear program is solely for civilian energy and medical uses.