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Iran Sneaks Syrian Crude to Markets

The FT reports that the Syrian economy may have contracted by as much as 10 percent in the past year, while the Syrian pound has lost one third of its former value. Given that Syria exports 95 percent of its oil to the EU, international sanctions are threatening to further cripple the economy and could make it difficult for Assad to hold power as the Syrian war drags on.

Yet Syria is now receiving help from another country currently enduring a Western sanctions regime: Iran. The FT notes that while Iran has not had much official trade with Syria in recent months Iranian tankers are now taking advantage of lax registration requirements in various countries to circumvent the sanctions. Iranian tankers carry oil and other products from Syria, then switch flags to deliver the contraband Syrian oil to international markets:

On March 25, the Tour arrived in the Syrian port of Banias, where it picked up a shipment of Syrian light crude oil blend.

Two days later, the Tour switched to a Bolivian flag, according to the Bolivian maritime registry. It also changed its owner. Its had been registered to ISIM Tour, a Maltese company belonging to ISI Maritime, also registered in Malta. ISI Maritime is owned by Irano-Hind Shipping Company, a joint venture of IRISL and the Shipping Corporation of India.

By the 27th, the Tour’s registered owner had changed to Auris Marine Company—a company registered in the Marshall Islands, which is not subject to EU sanctions. Auris Marine was annulled just hours later, according to a person familiar with the situation. The Tour’s current ownership is unclear.

There is nothing new about countries circumventing the law to evade sanctions. Nor is it any surprise that Iran is coming to the aid of one of its few friends.

The Obama administration’s reaction, however, will be interesting to watch. In recent days, its rhetoric on the humanitarian crisis in Syria has heated up dramatically. Yet while it has been busy making pronouncements, it has been oddly quiet about its other major  effort in the region: the struggle to keep Iran from getting the bomb. Now that Iran is fully backing Syria in its efforts to crush the uprising, will Obama’s tough talk include Iran?

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