( dpa )- A US congressional watchdog agency raised questions Wednesday about the effectiveness of two decades of US economic sanctions against Iran and urged a thorough review of the source of Iran's booming foreign trade.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative and auditing arm of Congress, noted in the report posted online that Iran's overall trade with the world has risen 7 to 9 per cent a year since 1987.
From 1987-2006, Iranian exports grew from 8.5 billion dollars to 70 billion dollars in 2006 dollars - an average of 9-per-cent annually. Iran's imports grew from 7 billion to 46 billion dollars, a 7-per-cent growth rate, the report said.
The trade included imports of weapons and nuclear technology, the report said.
The report was produced at the request of a US House of Representatives subcommittee on national security and foreign affairs.
" Iran's global trade ties and leading role in energy production make it difficult for the United States to isolate Iran and pressure it to reduce proliferation and support for terrorism," the report said.
In 2006, the United Nations instituted multilateral sanctions against Iran over its refusal to comply with international demands that it stop enriching uranium, a process that could provide weapons- grade fuel.
US sanctions before and after 2006 were aimed at both Iran's nuclear proliferation and its support of international terrorism.
Iran insists it has no designs on making nuclear weapons and needs to enrich uranium to supply the oil-rich country with electricity.
Its claims appeared to be backed up from Washington in December, when a US intelligence report found that Iran had halted its atomic- weapons programme in 2003 and seemed less determined to develop nuclear arms than the administration of President George W Bush previously believed.
Although US sanctions prohibit third-party dealing, the GAO found the rule is often violated even as the US sometimes looks the other way for diplomatic reasons.
US enforcement officials indicated that US goods are likely trans- shipped to Iran through Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, Britain, the United Arab Emirates and other countries, the report said.
The UAE came in for special scrutiny, because Iran is the largest trading partner for the Gulf country, which is also a large importer of US goods. The report raised questions about the effectiveness of end-use checks for US products exported to the UAE.
Third-party sanctions aimed at denying Iran financial resources were aimed at limiting Irans ability to find, extract, refine, or transport its oil resources.
In 1998, the US government granted waivers to three foreign energy companies - Total of France, Gazprom of Russia and Petronas of Malaysia - to help develop Iran's South Pars gas field. The waivers were justified by the US State Department as necessary to cultivate European Union and other international support for multilateral sanctions against Iran, the report said.
Since 2003, the Iranian government has signed contracts reported at about 20 billion dollars with foreign firms to develop its energy resources, the GAO said.
"The growing worldwide demand for oil, coupled with high oil prices and Irans extensive reserves, enabled Iran to generate more than 50 billion dollars in oil revenues in 2006," the report noted.
The report urged the US Treasury, Energy, State and Commerce departments and other agencies to improve data collection and analysis on sanctions and to develop an efficient monitoring system.