Iran's oil minister says crude exports rebounding
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's oil minister said Wednesday that crude exports are rebounding after being hit by a European embargo in July, describing for parliament the strategies by which the Islamic Republic says it is countering punitive measures imposed by the West over Tehran's nuclear program.
Rostam Qassemi did not provide figures. But some analysts say that exports had fallen in July by as much as 40 percent, hitting a sector that counts for four-fifths of the country's foreign revenue. His comments carried by the semiofficial Mehr news agency appear part of wider efforts by Iranian officials to show that Iran can ride out the sanctions.
"We have no problem selling our oil," Qassemi said. "Iran's crude oil exports are increasing. With the increase in exports, the way has been paved for more currency income."
The minister told legislators that Iran has found ways to provide insurance to tankers carrying Iranian crude to Asian customers, bypassing one of the legal obstacles aimed at discouraging companies from buying and trading in Iranian oil.
"Foreign contractors imposed insurance sanctions on oil tankers. Now we have bypassed those sanctions. Currently there is no problem to provide insurance to tankers carrying Iran's crude oil," the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Qassemi as saying.
He did not provide details, but Iran had earlier said it was setting up private insurance companies — a possible way by which the country is using its ample oil earnings to offer incentives to offset sanctions.
The U.S. and Europe have imposed a range of sanctions on Iran over nuclear activities that the West claims are aimed at developing a weapon. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.
The International Energy Agency says Iran's oil exports plunged to 1 million barrels a day in July from 1.74 million barrels a day in June after an embargo by the European Union, which accounted for around 18 percent of Iran's exports.
Crude oil exports account for about 80 percent of Iran's foreign revenue.
The 27-nation European Union stopped all contracts with Tehran on July 1. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been pressuring Iran's key Asian oil customers such as China, India, South Korea and Japan to look to other suppliers.
China, India, Japan and South Korea are among Iran's most important oil export markets. The U.S. has exempted its allies South Korea and Japan from U.S. sanctions after they significantly reduced their imports of Iranian oil.
India and Japan are already offering government-backed insurance for ships carrying Iranian crude in order to bypass European sanctions.
Fast-growing China — which counts on Iran for about 10 percent of its energy needs — has resisted American pressures and continues to buy more than 510,000 barrels of Iranian crude a day.
But Iran is struggling with its national currency, the rial, that has lost more than half of its value just in a year. Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini was grilled over rial's devaluation at the parliament's closed door meeting Wednesday.
Iran's national currency hit new record low against dollar earlier this month, trading at nearly 26,000 to the U.S. dollar last week on the black market, compared to 21,000 rials earlier this month. The rial was trading at around 10,500 rials to the U.S. dollar in late December 2010.
"The important development that has taken place is that within a few years, the value of the national currency has been cut by half against foreign currencies," the parliament's website, icana.ir, quoted lawmaker Elyas Naderan as saying in Wednesday's session. "Government's mismanagement and obstinacy is responsible for this chaotic situation in the currency market."
While sanctions are partly blamed for rial devaluation, experts have accused the government of deliberately doing so in order to sell its currency at higher prices and meet its budget deficit.