The supermarket shelves here are filled with goods familiar to any American shopper. Sara Lee cakes and Shakey's pizzas nestle in the freezer and Pillsbury fudge brownie mixes sit next to packages of Royal No-Bake cheesecake.
There are also packages of instant grits, a popular item in the Carter White House, and for homesick Washingtonians, Safeway's house brand of dishwasher powder is on sale. The catch is that it is priced at the equivalent of $5 per medium-sized package.
In short, American economic sanctions or not, Iran's stores have plenty of consumer products, especially the luxury items that wealthier residents here have grown used to.
Much of these goods still come from the United States despite the more than six-month-old ban by U.S. dockworkers on shipping goods, including food, to Iran as a result of the seizure of the American Embassy and the holding of 53 hostages.
Iranians also are confident that they can evade economic sanctions inposed in April by the United States and in May by the European Community and Japan. The U.S. sanctions restricted trade with Iran except for limited deliveries of food and medicine, and the EC decided to cancel all contracts signed after the embassy seizure. However, Britain broke ranks by making its sanctions applicable only to future contracts, not retroactive to Nov. 4.
The main problem for Iran is how long it will be able to pay for these imports as oil revenues, its major source of foreign exchange, continue to dwindle.
It appears that the slowdown in oil exports here has cut Iran's foreign exchange reserves by as much as $750 million a month.
The country's proposed budget calls for oil exports of 2 million barrels a day, which should bring in $60 million daily. But Oil Minister Ali Akbar Moinfar admitted Thursday that oil exports are down to 800,000 barrels a day, worth about $24 million. Diplomats here believe the situation is even grimmer.
Nevertheless, regular shoppers at this city's luxury supermarkets -- the most modern in this part of the world with shopping carts, conveyer-belt checkouts, and American-style cash registers, say the shelves are constantly restocked. The prices are similar to those in nearby countries that are not facing economic sanctions and possible shortages.
Prices of the luxury goods favored by the rich have not risen as fast as staples sold in ordinary markets, where the inflation rate over the past year has reached 50 percent and meat and rice have doubled in price.
A seven-ounce jar of imported French pate costs less than $3 and French-made Friskey dry dog food is available at $2 a box.
Analysts here believe Iran has succeeded in finding alternate means of supply for all sorts of goods it needs.
"If pate and American frozen foods and canned goods reach here, so do computer parts and industrial supplies. What is missing in the technical areas, though, is the expertise to make repairs and use the parts it gets," said one diplomat.
An Iranian said this country's telephone system -- one of the most advanced in this part of the world -- is now falling apart because the technicians do not know how to maintain it. Entire computer systems have to be taken out, he said, because no one knows how to discover which small part needs to be replaced.
Nonetheless, it was clear from a tour today of supermarkets and the more traditional covered bazaar that the U.S. economic sanctions are porous. Even clearly marked burlap sacks of American rice, a favorite here, are stacked outside stores.
Some traders say Turkey is a major transshipment site, but that seems unlikely since rail and road lines from there to Iran have been blocked by clashes between Kurds and central authorities here.
Most analysts here speculate that goods are coming to Iran through the traditional smugglers' port of Dubai, which has long been the Persian Gulf's major transshipment point.
While it is still uncertain whether the American firms know that their merchandise is ending up here when they ship it to Dubai or other points in this region, Iranians are convinced that U.S. companies are deliberately circumventing the economic sanctions.
"They need our money," said one merchant in the bazaar.
Even if American companies do follow the sanctions he said, he does not expect other countries to stop shipments here. "They're afraid we'll buy from Russia," he said.
This man, a second-generation cloth merchant, held up sample books with swatches of prime English wool he says he is selling now and still expects to sell in six months, despite Great Britain's limited sanctions that went into effect last week.
A textiles middleman in a nearby office says he imports his thread from South Korea and does nt expect to have to change suppliers.
In fact, the only merchants who appear to be suffering from the economic sanctions are the sellers of caviar. With the threat of no more food imports, Iran recently banned the export of all food -- including caviar, hardly a staple in anyone's diet.
As a result, stocks of caviar have filled refrigerators and stores here. Even Iranians and foreigners traveling from the country cannot take any out in their personal luggage, and the airport caviar shop has closed.
The glut, however, has not lowered caviar prices for domestic consumption.