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Thursday, May 23, 2024

US renews waivers for Iran nuclear deal despite pressure

The United States on Thursday extended waivers to let an internationally backed nuclear deal with Iran go forward, even as it announced new sanctions to step up pressure. The waivers’ renewal for 60 days will allow nonproliferation work to continue at the Arak heavy-water research reactor, the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Tehran Research Reactor and other nuclear cooperation initiatives.

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.


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.

Read More: U.S. renews waivers on Iran nuclear work, but sanctions top Iran nuclear official

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.

Read more: Putin seeks rapid renewal of key nuclear deal with US

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.

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.

Read more: US and Israel gang up on Iran as nuclear deal falters

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