TEHRAN, IRAN — Despite the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign targeting the Iranian economy, Iran’s crude oil and oil product revenues jumped a surprising 60 percent from March 21 to July 23. In addition, figures provided by Iran’s Central Bank show that Iran’s revenues from oil sales soared by 84.2 percent over that same period, setting a new record.
The increased revenues seem to have resulted from a jump in oil prices this year as well as Iran’s high oil export volume during part of that period. Notably, the increased revenues were reported despite the United States’ announcement in May that it would sanction those purchasing Iranian oil starting in early November, with the ultimate goal of reducing Iranian oil sales to zero in order to place pressure on the Iranian government.
The U.S.’ efforts have had some noticeable effects on Iranian oil exports, as the country’s exports for the month of August were significantly lower than those of July. However, the drop has only seen exports fall to near March 2016 levels, when the U.S. was not pursuing a sanctions policy against Iran and the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was in effect.
Further dashing U.S. hopes of crushing Iranian oil exports have been recent announcements from Iran’s top two customers, China and India, that they would continue to import Iranian crude despite the looming threat of U.S. sanctions. India, along with some other countries, has sought “waivers” from Washington that would allow them to continue to import Iranian oil and avoid retaliation from the U.S. for a certain period of time.
In addition, the European Union, which had previously joined the U.S. in targeting Iranian oil exports in 2012, has shown its unwillingness to follow Washington’s lead this time around, openly vowing to rebel against the U.S. sanctions regimen and increasing the likelihood that Europe will continue to buy some Iranian oil despite U.S. threats.
Another indication that efforts to curb Iranian oil exports are backfiring for the Trump administration is the jump in oil prices that has resulted from concerns about the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. The increase in oil prices is likely to be felt domestically in the U.S., the world’s largest consumer of oil, potentially posing a political risk to Trump and his fellow Republicans ahead of the November 6 midterm elections. In addition, further oil price increases could trigger a slowdown in domestic or global economic growth, which could further complicate the U.S.’ Iran policy and Trump’s domestic political situation.
Such concerns have prompted U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to meet his Saudi and Russian counterparts in an effort to convince those two countries to keep oil output high in order to offset a reduction in future Iranian oil exports. While Saudi Arabia has already stated it would increase output, Russia is unlikely to comply, given its relationship with Iran and Washington’s threat to impose new sanctions on Moscow. The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Russia are currently the world’s three largest oil producers, accounting for about a third of global crude oil output.
While the Trump administration may have assumed that U.S. oil producers – and the U.S. economy in general — would benefit from the elimination of Iranian oil exports, the growing rejection of the impending U.S. sanctions by other countries shows that these nations are unwilling to pay for more expensive American oil or even Saudi oil, preferring less expensive Iranian oil despite potential future consequences. Furthermore, efforts to increase U.S. crude production have fallen short of government expectations, further complicating the U.S.’ efforts to offset an increase in oil prices resulting from Iranian oil sanctions.
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