US

Oil holds above $95 as focus returns to Iran talks

The price of oil held above $95 a barrel Friday as investors waited to see if Iran will get sanction relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for January delivery was down 3 cents to $95.41 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.59 to close at $95.44 on Thursday, the highest close this month.

Oil was buoyed by signs of recovery in the U.S. job market but the gains were short-lived as focus returned to the Iran nuclear talks that began in Geneva on Wednesday. Negotiators were trying to fine-tune a draft agreement that would limit Tehran's atomic program in an initial deal. In exchange, the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are offering a gradual easing of sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy, raising the possibility of an influx of Iranian oil into world markets at a time of already abundant supplies.

A senior U.S. official has told reporters that Iran is losing $5 billion a month in oil sales alone and $120 billion in total from all sanctions. The powers insist that the most severe penalties, which are on oil exports and banks, will remain until there is a comprehensive agreement to minimize Iran's nuclear arms-making capacity. Iran says it does not want such weapons and has indicated it's ready to start rolling back its program but wants greater and faster sanctions relief than that being offered.

Experts believe countries like China, Korea and India — which have been given exemptions to U.S.-led sanctions and allowed limited imports of Iranian crude — may look to increase their purchases from the Islamic Republic if negotiations fail to reach a deal soon.

Brent crude, the benchmark for an international variety of crude, was up 71 cents to $110.79 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange in London. In other energy futures trading on Nymex: — Wholesale gasoline rose 0.41 cent to $2.7232 gallon.

— Heating oil added 2.07 cents to $3.0263 a gallon. — Natural gas advanced 4.5 cents to $3.747 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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