Sales of Iranian crude oil rose by 100,000 barrels a day in January, to 1.32 million, the International Energy Agency reported on Thursday in its monthly survey, offering what appeared to be a glimpse at the initial impact of the temporary nuclear agreement that eased some of the Western sanctions against Iran.
American supporters of strong sanctions against Iran seized on the increased oil sales as new evidence that the temporary agreement, negotiated in Geneva in November and put into effect last month, had disproportionately favored Iran. The Obama administration said at the time the agreement was reached that Iran’s oil exports would not increase, remaining around one million barrels a day.
Asked about the reported monthly increase at a daily press briefing, Marie Harf, a deputy State Department spokeswoman, said, “I’m having our folks take a look at it.” She acknowledged that the temporary agreement specifies that Iran’s oil customers “don’t have to reduce further, but they can’t increase.”
The International Energy Agency, a group based in Paris that represents 28 energy-importing countries, including the United States, said China accounted for most of the Iranian increase, at 95,000 barrels a day. Small increases in imports by Japan and India were offset by small reductions in imports by South Korea, Taiwan and Syria.
The Iranian data compiled by the agency is a closely watched barometer of the effect of sanctions on Iran, which suffered a huge drop in oil industry revenue in the past few years.
Under the temporary nuclear accordbetween Iran and six world powers, Iran agreed to suspend most nuclear activities in exchange for a modest easing of sanctions. The easing included a suspension of a United States restriction that would have forced Iran’s oil buyers to cut their imports to avoid big penalties. Another provision will allow Iran to have access to $4.2 billion of its own money that has been frozen in foreign banks.
Most Western sanctions against Iran remain in force, including a European oil embargo and extensive prohibitions on international banking transactions. The Obama administration has warned repeatedly that the temporary agreement should not be interpreted as a signal that these sanctions will be dismantled.
The agreement between Iran and the so-called P5-plus-1 group of countries, comprising the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany, was intended to allow negotiators more time to reach a permanent accord on the disputed nuclear program, which Iran says is peaceful but other nations suspect is a cover for achieving the ability to make atomic bombs.
The first talks on a permanent accord are scheduled for next Tuesday in Vienna.
The oil data came a day after the International Monetary Fund, in its first on-the-ground assessment of Iran’s economy in nearly three years, said the country faced anemic growth and rampant inflation, caused in part by the effects of the sanctions. Although optimism over the temporary nuclear accord may have helped stabilize Iran’s decline, the fund’s report said Iran remained economically weak and vulnerable.