(Adds comments, background.)
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, April 2 The top U.S. Treasury
Department official responsible for sanctions said on Wednesday
there is no evidence that any companies are taking advantage of
a preliminary nuclear agreement with Iran by reaching new deals
"We have not seen companies anywhere -- Europe, the Gulf,
Asia -- trying to take advantage of this ... narrow opening, the
quite limited suspensions of the sanctions to get into the
Iranian market, enter into business deals that would otherwise
be sanctionable," Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen said at a
U.S. Senate hearing.
Cohen noted that authorities estimated when the preliminary
agreement was reached that the sanctions relief would be worth a
maximum of $6 billion to $7 billion for Iran. He said that
estimate seems to be holding more than two months after the pact
came into force in January.
"Nothing that we have seen leads us to question that
estimate. If anything, that estimate is probably on the high
side," Cohen said.
The sanctions that Washington announced in early February
against a range of international entities sent a message that
the United States would "come down like a ton of bricks" over
sanctions violations, he said.
"We did that, and I think that sent a very strong message,"
Some U.S. lawmakers have worried that the preliminary "Joint
Plan of Action" would go too far in reopening the Iranian
market. They have cited visits by foreign delegations to Tehran
as evidence that the sanctions regime was collapsing.
"I'm concerned there are some folks, our allies and our
adversaries, who view Iran as potentially open for business,"
Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said as he questioned
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Iran and Russia have made
progress for an oil-for-goods deal that sources said could be
worth up to $20 billion and enable Tehran to boost vital energy
exports in defiance of western sanctions.
Asked about the report at the hearing, Cohen said Washington
would be ready to impose penalties over any deal that violated
international sanctions regimes.
"We have been crystal clear to the Russians that any such
deal is not only contrary to the spirit of the P5 plus 1
negotiations that we're involved in, but would also be plainly
sanctionable under a number of different authorities that we
have," he said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sandra Maler and