|U.S. warns on potential Russia-Iran oil deal||
The U.S. has no information to suggest that a reported Russian oil-for-goods deal is being completed, but has expressed concerns about a move that could lead to fresh U.S. sanctions, a senior official said late Friday.
"We do not have any information to suggest this deal has been culminated," the senior U.S. official said in a teleconference ahead of the resumption of international talks on Iran's nuclear program. "We have been very clear about our concerns with both parties regarding this or any similar deal."
Reuters reported earlier this week that Iran and Russia were working to seal a $20 billion oil-for-goods deal in which Russia will receive oil in exchange for Russian goods and equipment.
"If such a deal were to happen, it appears it would be inconsistent with" last November's interim nuclear deal "and could potentially trigger U.S. sanctions against the entity and individuals involved in any related transaction," the official said.
Under last November's agreement with Iran, the five permanent members of the Security Council, which include Russia, and Germany agreed to pause efforts to reduce Iran's crude-oil sales, enabling Iran to export around one million barrels a day. U.S., European and international sanctions had led to a sharp fall in Iranian oil exports.
Last month, as tensions between Russia and the West flared up over Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, Russia's chief negotiator at the talks warned that although his government doesn't want to see the Ukraine conflict spill over into the Iran talks, "if we are forced to do this, we will go down the path of taking measures in response [to Western pressure]."
Iran's oil exports have pushed above one million barrels a day over the last couple of months, but the senior U.S. official said Friday that Washington remains "comfortable that in fact they will meet the target that they have."
The official described the experts' nuclear talks this week as intense and said Russia hadn't broken from its previous constructive, focused attitude to the talks.
Top negotiators from Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany will meet in Vienna on April 8-10 for the third round of negotiations on a final comprehensive nuclear agreement. The aim is to reach a deal by July 20 although the target date could be extended.
Iran says its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes but Western concerns that it is seeking nuclear weapons have led to tight energy, financial and commercial sanctions on the country in recent years.
The senior U.S. official said Iran and the six powers "are on pace with the work plan that we set out" to reach a deal.
The official said the real drafting work on a final deal will start in May.
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