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The White House says that it will not interfere with Iran’s rising oil sales, despite a recent uptick that experts say is providing Tehran with billions in revenue.
Exports of Iranian crude oil jumped to 1.32 million barrels in January, up from December’s high of 1.06 million barrels, according to data from the International Energy Agency.
While the increase caused concern among some experts who worry that economic sanctions on Iran are collapsing, the White House appeared unfazed by the latest export data and promised to continue pausing its efforts to reduce these sales.
The Obama administration has said that Iran would receive no more than $7 billion in sanctions relief under the recently signed interim nuclear deal. However, experts say that the rise in oil exports and other economic spikes will give Iran “well more than $20 billion.”
“Under the Joint Plan of Action, the United States will ‘pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales, enabling Iran’s current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil,’” White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Caitlin Hayden told the Washington Free Beacon when asked about Iran’s growing exports.
The administration had initially promised that “Iran’s oil exports will remain steady at their current level of around 1 million barrels per day.”
Hayden said the recent spike in exports would even out during the next few months.
“The ‘current average amounts of crude oil’ is understood to be ‘average volume’ over a six-month period,” Hayden explained. “Month-to-month variability is normal in oil markets, but we expect Iran's total exports will average out over the six-month period.”
“There are variations in national purchasing patterns because of seasonality and circumstances such as ships being delayed for docking, disruption to insurance, etc.,” she said. “So, monthly figures may shift for each.”
Nations such as Japan, China, and India have emerged as Iran’s top oil importers. Hayden said the administration is working with these nations to ensure they do not significantly boost their imports.
“We maintain close communication with China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey (the significantly reducing countries) to help them maintain their current average level of crude oil imports from Iran during the period that the Joint Plan of Action is in effect,” Hayden said.
Iranian oil sales have risen since November, when the interim deal was struck, leading experts to warn that sanctions on Iran are becoming ineffective.
“These numbers … cast doubt on the accuracy of the administration’s estimates for sanctions relief,” former Ambassador Mark Wallace, CEO of the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, said in a statement last week. “The $6 or $7 billion estimate does not take into account the tens of billions of dollars Iran will reap from increased oil sales.”
“It is becoming more and more evident that the Geneva deal provided Iran with disproportionate sanctions relief, in exchange for far less significant concessions regarding its nuclear program,” Wallace said.
Iran is slated to receive around $4.2 billion in cash infusions from the Obama administration, which began unfreezing these cash assets last month. Iran will receive some $450 million on March 1 and another $550 million on March 7 under the deal.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday urged the country’s oil sector increase its output, according to regional reports.