US exempts Japan, European nations from Iran sanctions

President Barack Obama speaks alongside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Nov. 18, 2011.</p>

President Barack Obama speaks alongside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Nov. 18, 2011.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday the US has exempted 11 countries from economic sanctions because they "significantly" cut back on buying petroleum from Iran.

Clinton granted waivers to Japan and 10 EU nations - Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. That means banks and other financial institutions based there will not face penalties under US law for a renewable period of 180 days, the Associated Press reported.

Japan reduced its dependency on Iranian oil by 15 percent to 22 percent in the second half of last year, despite an earthquake and a nuclear disaster, according to the AP.

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Bloomberg cited an anonymous US official, who said the EU and Japan are being rewarded for their efforts in the hope that other countries will follow suit before the June 28 deadline.

Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, who co-authored the sanctions with Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, said "the sanctions are working."

President Barack Obama has until the end of the month to decide whether to impose sanctions on additional countries that still buy oil from Iran. Another 12 nations including China, the largest importer of Iranian oil, India and and South Korea have until late June to either comply or face sanctions.

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Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the Obama administration is encouraged by the the support it is getting for its allies and will continue economic sanctions on Tehran, wrote Reuters.

"We are going to keep looking at ways we can bring more pressure to bear," Geithner told the US House of Representatives Financial Services Committee. "We are making really substantial progress, and our hope is of course that it will alter Iran's calculations about their interest in pursuing nuclear capabilities."