What the Group 5+1 are more specifically referring to is an EU insurance ban on shipping for tankers carrying Iranian crude. Flag switching antics aside, Asian refiners have been concerned that they can't cover against environmental pollution claims that would weigh heavily on corporate balance sheets. That's made life harder for Iran to it shift 3 million barrels of oil a day; it also caught Washington on the hop when international benchmarks prompted upticks at US pumps before the Saudis stepped in to fill prospective gaps somehow, Matthew Hulbert said in a commentary in Forbes.
But the insurance angle shouldn't be overplayed; in extremis, sovereign coverage could easily pick up the tab in Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo and Delhi. Far more importantly, the only reason Iranian exports took an initial February dip, was haggling over discounts between Tehran and Unipec / Zhuhai Zhenrong (China), and ONGC / Essar (India) - so much so that Iran has rebalanced its budgets to $85/b price expectations. Having done so, National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) exports to China were already back to 390,000b/d in April, and will probably get close to normal volumes of 550,000b/d in May. Likewise, India will be close to its usual 400,000b/d, not least to re-export Iranian crude back to global markets at premium prices; a game that Singapore spot traders have also been playing, he added.
Hulbert said beyond the obvious point that Asia has no ideological problem buying Persian oil, the numbers tell us four things. Despite relying on oil exports for 65% of government revenues, Iran is still comfortably in the black thanks to Asian oil sales. That means that the West's 'oil carrot' is actually a 'political turnip': Iran is never going to call time on enrichment on the back of oil threats, precisely because it still has easy access to Asian markets. What's more, given prevailing benchmark prices, what Tehran fails to shift in optimal volumes it can make up for in price. But the fourth, and most inconvenient truth for the US and its allies, is that the West has the same problem it had day one of its sanctions strategy; the world's largest growth markets for oil - India and China - aren't onboard. Until that's the case, sanctions will remain little more than a holding measure subject to wax and wane.
US President Obama needs to consider that the closer things come towards US Presidential elections, the more powerful Iran becomes. 'Inelastic consumption vs. the threat of oil price spikes' is a lethal combination for any aspiring President to face, he added.
The Baghdad meetings probably bough a little more time and space for everyone to consider options, but it's clear that Western sanctions (as currently configured) are never going to stop nuclear enrichment. That poses a far bigger question as to whether the world is ultimately happy to live with a nuclear Iran or not? It wouldn't be pretty, but the downside risks of stopping Tehran are only going to get more expensive (and explosive) from hereon in. Washington knows it, it knows that Iran holds sanctions aces that could turn life into hell for the US and its allies.