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Iranian oil exports hit a high in December, just one month after Western nations inked a nuclear pact with Iran that guaranteed up to $7 billion in economic sanctions relief.
Exports of Iranian crude oil rose from 789,292 barrels per day in November to 1,059,605 per day in December, according to new shipping data provided to the Washington Free Beacon by the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).
This is among the highest number of oil exports Iran reached in all of 2013. Iran hit its peak oil sales in April of that year, when it was exporting some 1.39 million barrels per day.
Some foreign policy experts worry that the interim nuclear deal reached between Iran and the West has reinvigorated the global markets and created a renewed demand for Tehran’s cheap—and heavily sanctioned—crude oil.
China, India, South Korea, Turkey, and Syria are currently the top five importers of Iranian oil, according to UANI’s shipping data.
Taiwan also resumed its oil purchases from Iran in December after halting them completely during the previous months.
“More than anything, [the uptick in exports] is an indication of increased imports by China and Taiwan,” according to Martin House, UANI’s lead shipping analyst.
Russia has also expressed interest in boosting its stake in the Iranian oil and gas sectors.
While Iran has yet to reach its maximum export capacity, some remain concerned that December’s sharp increase is a sign of what will come when the Obama administration begins to rollback sanctions.
“Iran's top economic priority is to regain its previous levels of oil exports,” said UANI spokesman Nathan Carleton. “If export limits are lifted, we could see great increases in profits for the regime.”
House noted that Iran would find it easy to maximize its profitable oil exports after the nuclear deal is enacted and sanctions begin to crumble.
“Once insurers take advantage of the Geneva agreement and start insuring Iran’s vessels again, the regime will find it much easier to increase profits from its oil exports,” he said.
Iran, which has large oil reserves, has the capability to export at least twice the amount of oil it exports under the sanctions regime.
UANI produces its shipping data by tracking individual tankers docking at and leaving key Iranian ports.
Additionally, Iran continues to skirt sanctions by operating rogue oil tankers and smuggling oil to countries such as China, according to UANI’s data.
Iran continues to operate these rogue oil tankers, which often hoist the flags of other nations in an effort to obfuscate their Iranian origins.
The Iranians have been spotted flying Tanzania’s flag and continue to operate a handful of ghost ships that cannot be tracked by officials, according to UANI.
Two such ships, the “Polaris 1″ and the "Cassendra,” have no shipping classification and appear to be owned by separate front companies based on the island nation Seychelles.
At various times in 2013, Iranian tankers were spotted trying to evade international trackers by changing their names, call signs, and maritime identity numbers.
One vessel was ultimately sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department after it was caught illicitly transferring Iranian oil under a complex scheme aimed at circumventing sanctions.
The interim nuclear deal has already had a psychological effect on the global marketplace, which is hungry to reenter Iran, according to sanctions experts.
“The deal has changed the market psychologically when it comes to sanctions, and unless Congress enacts new sanctions, the international sanctions regime will just continue to unravel,” said one senior congressional aide involved in the sanctions debate.
Fifty-one senators have already come out in support of a new Iran sanctions measure that the White House and its allies are working to kill.
The new sanctions measure would aim to plug the holes Iran exploits.
“The president told us that sanctions relief provided by the interim deal would be limited,” said the aide. “But this [oil] data shows what critics of the interim deal have been saying all along: There’s a hole in the dyke and a flood of sanctions evasions is coming through.”