The government of Iran denied reports that it is importing wheat from the United States for the first time in nearly 30 years, according to Iran's Press TV, even as the U.S. confirmed the historic sales to FOXNews.com.
"We purchase wheat from Canada and some European countries, but Iran has not had any direct wheat imports from the U.S.,” Commerce Minister Masoud Mirkazemi told an Iranian news agency Sunday.
The denial came in response to reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing that Iran resumed buying American wheat this summer after months of drought reduced Iran's wheat crop by a third, from 15 million to 10 million tons.
Despite Iran's denial, the USDA reports that Iran has directly purchased 1.25 million tons of U.S. hard red winter wheat since the crop's marketing year began on June 1.
"The U.S. has shipped close to 350,000 tons of wheat to Iran since the beginning of the marketing year," said Pete Burr, branch chief for Export Sales Reporting in the Foreign Agricultural Service at the USDA. "And there's currently almost 900,000 tons of wheat that are on the books — sales have been made — that haven't been shipped."
Following a decades-long hiatus, Iran is now one of the world's largest importers of U.S. wheat.
Iran ceased U.S. wheat imports in the 1981-1982 marketing year, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, following a revolution in 1979 that damaged relations and ended most diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Iran experts say the new policy shift was made out of necessity; the country continues to struggle with the U.S. over its nuclear program, which Washington says aims to develop weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program aims only to generate electricity.
State Department spokesman Rob McInturff said that the exports show the U.S.'s openness to the Iranian people, even as it imposes trade sanctions against the Iranian regime, which do not bar agricultural and medical trade between the countries.
"We have a longstanding policy ... of engaging the Iranian people on the one hand while sanctioning the Iranian government on the other," Mr. McInturff told the Journal.
In years past Iran has purchased wheat from Canada, Australia and the European Union, but supplies are short in those countries and the U.S. winter-wheat harvest is nearly complete, the Journal reported.
"Any sale is a good thing so it's always good to see high export numbers," said Burr.