WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. sanctions against Iran remain undiluted and Washington has sent a clear message to other countries that Iran is not open for business, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday.
Kerry told U.S. senators on Capitol Hill that Washington's tough sanctions regime against Tehran has not been weakened by an initial agreement late last year between Iran and six world powers over its nuclear ambitions.
"We have made it crystal clear that Iran is not open for business," Kerry said at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing. "They have accepted that. They are not cutting deals."
Iran and Western governments reached an interim agreement in November over Tehran's atomic work in exchange for limited sanctions relief for six months.
The relaxation in penalties has triggered a race among Western firms to explore lucrative business opportunities. Last month, Iran welcomed more than 100 executives from France's biggest firms, its most senior trade delegation in years.
But the United States and Western governments are eager to show that, despite diplomatic talks for a longer-term agreement, pressure on Iran remains high.
"I have been personally in touch with foreign ministers of countries where we have heard there might be a trade delegation," Kerry told the panel.
He said the November agreement will release $6 billion to $7 billion to Iran in increased oil exports, but little else in Washington's sanctions regime has changed.
"We believe we're heading in the right direction. I can't tell you where it is going to land - we don't know," Kerry said. "There are some very tough decisions the Iranians are going to have to make, very tough, in order to meet the international community's standard for certainty as to the peacefulness of this program."
(Writing by Doina Chiacu, editing by G Crosse)