Iran's oil exports have declined by 40 percent due to intensifying Western sanctions implemented over Tehran's illicit nuclear program, Iranian oil minister Rostam Qasemi told the country's budget and planning parliamentary commission on Monday.

Oil exports have historically accounted for a large percentage of Iran's national budget. In 2011, the Islamic republic relied on approximately $100 billion brought in by oil exports to cover 60% of its budget.

Over the last 9 months "there has been a 40% decline in oil sales and a 45% decrease in repatriating oil earnings," Qasemi said. He previously had insisted that Western economic pressure was not significantly impeding Iran's crude exports.

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In July of last year, Western nations began leveling heavy sanctions against Iran's energy sector, with the European Union prohibiting buying oil from Tehran. Iran's crude sales to Asia, meanwhile, have been hit by an EU insurance ban on Iranian oil shipping and US sanctions against Tehran's central bank.

As a result, according to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), Iranian oil exports have fallen from around 2.4 million barrels per day (mbpd) in 2011 to around 1.0 mbpd by the end of 2012.

Iran, once the second-biggest crude exporter in OPEC after Saudi Arabia, has slipped to fourth place, now trailing Iraq and Kuwait as well, according to the cartel's figures.

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