Official: U.S. unfreezes $8 bn of Iranian assets

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd L) talks with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (3rd L) next to British Foreign Secretary William Hague (L) after a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva November 24, 2013. (Reuters)

Former head of Iran’s chamber of commerce Alinaqi Khamoushi told the official IRNA news agency on Sunday that the United States has released about $8 billion of the Islamic republic’s frozen assets.

“The agreement will open a new path towards Iran,” Khamoushi told IRNA, after Iran and the six world powers signed a breakthrough agreement to restraint Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

Iran’s deal with the P5+1 group: Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. plus Germany included Tehran halting its most sensitive enrichment of uranium and stopping other aspects of its nuclear activities from expanding.

Resolving Iran’s nuclear dispute with the Western powers will “gradually help promote Iran’s trade relations with the European countries and even with the United States,” Khamoushi said.

He added: “If the confidence-building measures by both the sides properly progress, then it would also help promote Iran’s ties with the United States.”

Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters after the deal was signed that Iran would gain sanctions relief under the accord, The Wall Street Journal reported him as saying.

Unfreezing Iran’s assets would affect its gold and precious metals trade, its petrochemicals sector.

However, Washington said the nuclear deal signed will not allow any more Iranian oil into the market, or let western energy investors into the country, but it does freeze U.S. plans for deeper cuts to Iranian crude exports, Reuters reported.

“In the next six months, Iran’s crude oil sales cannot increase,” a fact sheet posted by the White House on the U.S. State Department’s website on Sunday said.

It added: “Under this first step, the EU crude oil ban will remain in effect and Iran will be held to approximately 1 million bpd in sales, resulting in continuing lost sales worth an additional $4 billion per month, every month, going forward.”

Western pressure on Iran’s mainly Asian oil customers to find other suppliers has supported global oil prices over the last two years. Rising U.S. and Saudi production has helped dampen the impact of around 1.5 million barrels per day of Iranian oil being shut out.

U.S. and EU sanctions on Iran’s energy sector have prevented western energy companies from dealing with Tehran. It has slashed Iran’s oil exports from 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to around 1 million bpd.

Washington estimates that Iran has around $100 billion in foreign exchange earnings trapped in such accounts.

Under the terms of the deal, Iran will be allowed access to $4.2 billion of oil export revenues. But nearly $15 billion will still flow into accounts overseas over the next six months, according to the U.S. government.

“We expect the balance of Iran's money in restricted accounts overseas will actually increase, not decrease, under the terms of this deal,” the White House fact sheet said.

The U.S. government has also suspended some restrictions on gold and precious metals trade and lifted sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports that were imposed earlier this year.

U.S. lawmakers had planned further cuts in Iran’s oil exports but Washington has pledged not to impose new nuclear-related sanctions over the next six months, so long as Iran sticks to its side of the deal.

Less crude from Iran would increase pressure on regional rival Saudi Arabia to squeeze more out of oilfields that have already been pumping at record levels this year.

(With Reuters)

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