U.S. Clamps Down on Waivers Tied to Iran’s Nuclear Cooperation

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press briefing at the State Department last week in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool Photo via AP)

The Trump administration announced Wednesday it is ending nearly all of the last vestiges of U.S. sanctions relief provided under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would revoke all but one of sanctions waivers covering civil nuclear cooperation. The waivers had allowed Russian, European and Chinese companies to continue to work on Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities without drawing American penalties.

“The Iranian regime has continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities,” Pompeo said in a statement that pointed out that Iran has admitted to activities that are in violation of the deal.

He accused Iran of “nuclear extortion” and said it “will lead to increased pressure on Iran and further isolate the regime from the international community.”

Pompeo also imposed sanctions on two officials with Iran’s atomic energy organization who are involved in the development and production of centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

The nuclear cooperation waivers were last renewed in late March and were due to expire at the end of the month. The revocations will give foreign companies 60 days to wind down their operations.

Pompeo in March had opposed extending the waivers, which are among the few remaining components of the nuclear deal that the administration has not canceled. But officials said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had prevailed in an internal debate by arguing the coronavirus pandemic made eliminating the waivers unpalatable at a time when the administration is being criticized for refusing to ease sanctions to deal with the outbreak.

President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and has steadily reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran that had been eased or lifted under its terms. The “civilian-nuclear cooperation” waivers allow foreign companies to do work at some of Iran’s declared nuclear sites without becoming subject to U.S. sanctions.

Deal supporters say the waivers give international experts a valuable window into Iran’s atomic program that might otherwise not exist. They also say some of the work, particularly at the Tehran reactor on nuclear isotopes that can be used in medicine, is humanitarian in nature.

But Iran critics in Congress have pressed Pompeo to eliminate all the waivers, saying they should be revoked because they give Iran access to technology that could be used for weapons. These critics strenuously objected to the waiver that allowed work at Iran’s once-secret Fordow facility, which is built into a mountain.

Pompeo canceled that waiver in mid-December but the others, which permit work at the Bushehr nuclear power station, the Arak heavy water plant and the Tehran Research Reactor, had been kept in place until now. The waiver for work at Bushehr will be the only one extended. Pompeo said the waiver for work at Bushehr, which predated the Iran deal, would be extended for 90 days.

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