Oil down near $95 as focus returns to Iran talks

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Oil fell to near $95 a barrel Friday as investors waited to see if Iran will get sanction relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.

Benchmark U.S. crude for January delivery was down 20 cents to $95.24 at midafternoon Kuala Lumpur time 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 which 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.

Brent crude, the benchmark for an international variety of crude, fell 7 cents to $110.01 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline eased 0.9 cent to $2.71 gallon.

— Heating oil shed 0.6 cent to $3 a gallon.

— Natural gas was up 1.6 cents at $3.718 per 1,000 cubic feet.