The Obama administration began softening sanctions on Iran after the election of Iran's new president in June, months before the current round of nuclear talks in Geneva or the historic phone call between the two leaders in September.
While those negotiations now appear on the verge of a breakthrough the key condition for Iran—relief from crippling sanctions—began quietly and modestly five months ago.
A review of Treasury Department notices reveals that the U.S. government has all but stopped the financial blacklisting of entities and people that help Iran evade international sanctions since the election of its president, Hassan Rouhani, in June.
Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, an organization that has worked closely with Congress and the administration on devising the current Iranian sanctions, said the slow pace of designations was only one kind of sanctions relief Obama has been offering Iran.
"For five months, since Rouhani's election, the United States has offered Iran two major forms of sanctions relief," Dubowitz said. "First there's been a significant slowdown in the pace of designations while the Iranians are proliferating the number of front companies and cutouts to bust sanctions."
The second kind of relief Dubowitz said the White House had offered Iran was through its opposition to new Iran sanctions legislation supported by both parties in Congress.
By Dubowitz's estimates, Iran is now selling between 150,000 and 200,000 barrels of oil per day on the black market, meaning that Iran has profited from the illicit sale of over 35 million barrels of oil since Rouhani took office, with little additional measures taken by the United States to counter it.
"Sounds like Obama decided to enter the Persian nuclear bazaar to haggle with the masters of negotiation and has had his head handed to him," Dubowitz said.