Middle East

John Kerry: Tiny portion of Iran assets may be freed

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives on Capitol Hill before he briefs members of the Senate Banking Committee about Iran (13 November 2013)
Image caption John Kerry briefed Senators in Washington on the Iran negotiations

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has said a "tiny portion" of Iranian assets may be freed under a proposed deal on the country's nuclear programme.

Iran and world powers came "extremely close" to a deal in talks in Geneva at the weekend, Mr Kerry has told the BBC.

The Secretary of State is trying to persuade Congress not to impose new sanctions while negotiations continue.

The sanctions regime "does not really get eased" under the deal, he said.

In an interview with MSNBC, Mr Kerry said that "95% or more of the current sanctions will remain in place".

Measures against Iran had reduced its annual oil sales revenue from $110-120bn to $40-45bn, which was frozen in banks around the world, Mr Kerry said.

He said that all he was talking about doing was releasing "a tiny portion" of the assets, "because you have to do something to make it worthwhile for them to say 'yes, we are going to lock our program where it is today and actually roll it back'".

On Wednesday Mr Kerry told a Senate banking committee that the US might lose negotiating partners if it imposed further economic penalties on Iran.

He said any new sanctions would risk ruining the talks.

Legislators on the banking panel are divided on the measure.

Negotiations between the so-called P5+1 - the US, UK, France, Russia and China plus Germany - and Iran over its nuclear programme are expected to resume later this month in Geneva.

None of the differences is big enough to prevent agreement, Mr Kerry has previously said.

'No pause'

Some US legislators believe the White House is moving too quickly.

In a separate hearing on Wednesday, several House legislators said the US should take a harder line with Iran.

"The Iranian regime hasn't paused its nuclear programme," said Representative Ed Royce, a Republican.

"Why should we pause our sanctions efforts as the administration is pressuring Congress to do?"

The BBC's Suzanne Kianpour says that, according to senior administration officials, Mr Kerry - as well as Vice-President Joe Biden - will continue to shuttle back and forth to Congress to lobby lawmakers against proposing new sanctions.

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