* February exports revised upwards to 1.65 million bpd
* West seeks to limit exports to 1 mln bpd under recent deal
* US: over 6 months exports to average the target in deal
(Recasts to add quotes from State Department spokeswoman and
research group analyst)
By Ron Bousso and Timothy Gardner
LONDON/WASHINGTON, April 11 Iran's crude oil
exports have surged to their highest in 20 months, far exceeding
a 1 million barrel-per-day limit set by the West under an
interim deal on curbing Tehran's nuclear program.
The International Energy Agency's monthly report revised
February's global crude imports from Iran upwards by 240,000 bpd
to 1.65 million barrels per day, the highest since June 2012.
Under an interim deal signed in November between Iran and
six world powers - known as the P5+1 - that came into effect on
Jan. 20, Iran's exports are supposed to be held to an average 1
million bpd through July 20.
Tough international sanctions over the past two years have
cut Iran's oil exports by about half.
"The question is whether they are going to continue to test
the sanctions," said Antoine Halff, head of the IEA's oil
industry and markets division.
China accounted for 168,000 bpd of the rise in imports in
February, India for 93,000 bpd and South Korea for 83,000 bpd.
On the other hand, Japanese imports of Iranian oil were
revised lower by 103,000 bpd, according to the IEA.
"Imports of Iranian oil are running well above 2013 levels
for the third consecutive month," the report said.
The Obama administration believes that Iran's oil sales will
fall in coming months and average 1 million bpd over the entire
"We expect, we still expect, and anticipate that this will
average over a six month period ... to meeting the bar that was
set," in a White House fact sheet issued at the time of the
November deal, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told
Psaki said several factors, including Iranian contributions
of oil to Syria, sales of a light oil exempt under sanctions
called condensates, and high winter demand have made Iran's oil
sales look high recent months.
The Obama administration believes that Iran is unable to
sell Syria oil and, rather, has been giving oil in recent months
to the country experiencing civil war. The deliveries do not
benefit Iran's economy, State Department officials said.
Preliminary data for March show imports from Iran dropped to
1.05 million bpd "but that figure will likely be revised upwards
closer to February levels upon receipt of more complete data,"
the IEA said.
It said importers of Iranian crude in March included Albania
and Syria in addition to regular buyers China, India, South
Korea, Japan and Turkey.
The IEA data is based on statistics provided to the
organization by member and non-member states as well as shipping
Exports of Iranian condensate reached 140,000 bpd in
February and 110,000 bpd in March, significantly lower than
January's 250,000 bpd, the IEA said.
U.S. lawmakers have traditionally sought tougher measures on
Iran than the White House. Earlier this week, Senators Robert
Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Mark
Kirk, a Republican, called on President Barack Obama to "put
Iran on notice," that Washington is prepared to reinstate
sanctions that would push Tehran's oil sales even lower.
A bill sponsored by Menendez to impose new sanctions on Iran
stalled earlier this year, in part because of optimism about the
An analyst said while the data reflected early days in the
deal, it could show that Iran's buyers are getting more
comfortable with exceeding the limits under sanctions.
"It's possible that Iran's exports will plunge below 1
million bpd this spring and summer, enabling the cap to be met,"
said Bob McNally, president of energy research group the Rapidan
Group, who served as White House adviser to former President
George W. Bush.
"But in my view, it is more likely that Iran's customers
have seen the writing on the wall and concluded they can import
more Iranian oil at lower risk of being sanctioned by the State
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London, and Timothy
Gardner and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; editing by David
Evans and Tom Brown)