The United States said Tuesday it was exempting 11 nations including European Union members and Japan from tough new sanctions on Iran, praising them for reducing dependency on Tehran's oil.
Under a tough new law aimed at pressing Iran over its nuclear program, the United States plans to penalize foreign financial institutions that deal with Iran's central bank, which generally handles oil purchases.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States would exempt financial institutions from 11 nations -- Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.
"The actions taken by these countries were not easy," Clinton said in a statement.
"They had to rethink their energy needs at a critical time for the world economy and quickly begin to find alternatives to Iranian oil, which many had been reliant on for their energy needs," she said.
Notable nations not on the exemption list included China, India and South Korea.
China is a major economic partner of Iran. India, despite friendly relations with the United States, has defied pressure to shut off oil from Iran.
A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that President Barack Obama would ultimately have to decide whether to impose economic sanctions that under the law take effect on June 28.
The European Union announced a ban on Iranian crude oil on January 23. Japan said that it is reducing oil imports and pressed hard for an exemption from the US sanctions, noting its energy shortfall following the Fukushima nuclear crisis a year ago.
"Japan's significant reductions in crude oil purchases is also especially noteworthy considering the extraordinary energy and other challenges it has faced over the past year," Clinton said in her statement.
"We commend these countries for their actions and urge other nations that import oil from Iran to follow their example," Clinton said.
The US legislation has contributed to economic havoc in Iran, which has defiantly pursued sensitive uranium work.
Iran says that its nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes, but Israel and a number of Western officials fear that the clerical regime is building a nuclear bomb.
"The United States is leading an unprecedented international coalition of partners that has brought to bear significant pressure on the Iranian regime to change its course," Clinton said.
"Diplomacy coupled with strong pressure can achieve the long-term solutions we seek and we will continue to work with our international partners to increase the pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations," she said.
Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi recently denounced foreign powers for using oil as a "political tool."