* Japan, South Korea halted Iranian oil imports since 2019
* Mideast, U.S., Mexico crude have since replaced Iranian
* Economics, payment mechanism, ship insurance to be ironed
TOKYO, May 21 (Reuters) - As Iran gears up to resume oil
exports once the United States lifts trade sanctions, former key
clients in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan say they'll wait for
the U.S. green light before investigating terms under which they
might buy Iran's oil again.
Iran's president said on Thursday that the United States was
ready to lift sanctions, and Indian refiners plus at least one
European refiner are already reassessing purchases to make room
for Iran's oil in second-half 2021.
That's left traders keen to work out which way Japanese and
South Korean refiners will jump - the countries had been the
world's third and fourth largest buyers of Iranian crude and
condensate, importing about 450,000 barrels per day on average
between 2016 and 2018.
During Iran's two-year absence from supplier lists because
of sanctions, Japanese and Korean refiners have replaced Iranian
supplies with crude and condensate from other Middle Eastern
producers, Australia, the United States and Mexico.
Pending the lifting of sanctions, Japanese refiners said
they are also awaiting guidance from the country's government.
"Once Iranian oil becomes available to import, we will
consider if it is economically viable as we do with oil from any
other countries, and we will likely resume import if Iranian oil
is considered to be economically viable," a spokesman from Fuji
Peers in South Korea are taking a similar line.
"It would be good if Iranian oil can be imported ... but it
won't have much impact on us even if it can't be imported," one
South Korean buyer said. "(Once the sanctions are lifted) we
could possibly resume imports of Iranian oil if it's
In Taiwan, a Formosa Petrochemical spokesman said
Iranian oil prices would have to be competitive against Saudi
grades to be attractive, he added.
Even if sanctions are lifted, buyers will need to make sure
banks are able to transfer money, that shipping companies would
be able to send tankers to Iran, and that insurers would be able
to provide cover, said a procurement official at a Japanese
refinery who declined to be named.
"I think it will still take a long time as we need to
overcome these hurdles," he said.
Eneos Holdings, Japan's biggest refiner, said it
had not taken any action on possible purchases of Iranian crude.
"Going forward, we will look into it, paying attention to
moves on U.S. sanctions," the company said in an emailed
response to queries from Reuters.
(Reporting by Joori Roh in Seoul, Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo and
Florence Tan in Singapore; Additional reporting by Aaron
Sheldrick; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and David Evans)