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Reports: Iran Breaks Out of Sanctions, Signs European Energy Deal

Iranian state media boasted on Tuesday that Tehran has successfully inked an oil and gas deal with a top Italian energy company, bragging that the deal came despite the fact that Iran has yet to reach a final agreement with the P5+1 global powers regarding the country’s atomic program. The story emerged just a few days after a Gulf outlet reported that that the Iranians will soon attend a week-long energy exhibition in Oman indicated aimed at “promot[ing] trade between the Sultanate and the Islamic Republic of Iran with the participation of more than 100 Iranian companies.”

Both announcements in turn came just days after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that the Iranian economy had officially exited a sanctions-driven recession. The developments have deepened long-standing worries that sanctions relief provided to the Islamic republic under the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) is spiraling beyond public predictions issued months ago – and then consistently defended – by top Obama administration officials. Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) Executive Director Mark Dubowitz conveyed the Iranian braggadocio regarding the Italian deal alongside a pointed question about the robustness of the Western sanctions regime.

Administration officials have been perceived as scrambling to keep up with Iranian progress in eroding the sanctions regime. Treasury Department officials announced on Tuesday that they were imposing sanctions on more than half a dozen Iranian targets that, per a Reuters description of the charges, had “supported Iran’s efforts to avoid sanctions and backed the government’s human rights abuses, including censorship.” Lawmakers have become increasingly critical of the administration’s ability to check the erosion of the sanctions regime, and have become concomitantly skeptical of the White House’s claim that Western negotiators have sufficient leverage to extract meaningful concessions from the Iranians. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R – S.C.) predicted over the weekend that there will be “a very vigorous Congress when it comes to Iran,” and that a vote regarding sanctions legislation was likely in January.

[Photo: Paul Lowry/Flickr]