U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday said it will allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue work at Iranian nuclear sites, arguing their presences would make it harder for the Islamic Republic to develop a nuclear weapon.
Leading Republican senators and other Iran hawks had lobbied intensively to stop the latest waivers as U.S. President Donald Trump seeks to exert more pressure on Iran after the two longtime foes came toward the brink of war earlier this month.
President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of the accord negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, sending tensions soaring with Iran and leading Tehran to curb compliance, but European powers still back the deal.
Brian Hook, the US pointman on Iran, said that the United States would for another 60 days issue exemptions in its sweeping sanctions to let Russian and other companies implement it without fear of punishment by Washington.
If elected President, @EWarren would re-enter the United States back into the terrible Iran nuclear deal, which jeopardizes the safety and security of our nation and allies.#Democrats #2020Election pic.twitter.com/UhqYnnIROp
— 2020 Democrats Info (@2020DemsInfo) January 30, 2020
The extension will “permit the continuation of nonproliferation projects that constrain Iran’s nuclear activities,” Hook told reporters.
“We will closely monitor all developments in Iran’s nuclear program, and Secretary (Mike) Pompeo can end these projects as developments warrant,” he said.
The exemptions affect the Bushehr nuclear power plant and the Arak heavy water reactor, with the nations in the accord working to ensure they are not put to military use.
The Trump administration has repeatedly extended the waivers but stopped doing so in November for another site, Fordo, in retaliation for Iran’s lifting its level of uranium enrichment.
Iran’s step, which still leaves its uranium well below weapons-grade, aimed to pressure Europeans to show tangible benefits of the nuclear deal despite the US imposition of sanctions.
Just as it extended waivers, the United States announced new sanctions on the head of Iran Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi.
The nuclear chief “personally inaugurated the installation of new, advanced centrifuges to expand its uranium enrichment capacity,” Hook said.
The new sanctions freeze any US assets Salehi may have — a move with little practical effect as Iran is already under severe sanctions.
The #Trump administration on said it will allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue work at Iranian nuclear sites to make it harder for that country to develop a nuclear weapon, drawing ire from #Iran hawk Republicans.#IranNuclearDeal https://t.co/dzekFg76mU
— Kayhan Life (@KayhanLife) January 30, 2020
Hook also announced the first transaction with Iran under a new financial channel aimed at easing humanitarian trade, with the sale to the country of cancer and transplant drugs.
Since Trump imposed sanctions on Iran, the United States has insisted that humanitarian goods are exempt. But with the United States vowing to end virtually all trade with Iran, many companies have been hesitant, fearing they could get caught up in US sanctions.
The United States announced the humanitarian channel in a joint initiative with Switzerland last year.
Critics voiced skepticism over the move as the United States was seeking exhaustive paperwork for each transaction and warning that it could use the documentation to impose sanctions if it finds wrongdoing.
Trump, a close ally of Iran’s rivals Saudi Arabia and Israel, has vowed to fight Iran’s regional role and earlier this month ordered the killing of Iran’s most powerful general.
AFP with additional input from GVS News Desk