WASHINGTON - US exports to Iran rose by nearly a third this year, chiefly because of grain sales, according to US data released last week, despite the tightening of US financial sanctions.

The jump to $199.5 million in the first eight months of 2012 from $150.8 million a year earlier, according to Census Bureau data, is surprising given Western efforts to isolate Iran economically because of its suspected pursuit of nuclear arms.

The increase masks a drop in the export of some humanitarian goods such as medicines, a decline US exporters blame largely on the difficulty of getting paid by Iranian importers because of new US financial sanctions

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