The administration of United States President Donald Trump 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 – a decision that drew ire from Iran-hawk Republicans.
But the Trump administration also imposed sanctions on Iran‘s Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI) and its chief, a move described by the entity’s spokesman as a sign of Washington’s “despair”, who said Tehran’s civilian nuclear work would continue full force.
The Trump administration, which, in 2018, pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, will let the work go forward by issuing waivers to sanctions that bar non-US firms from dealing with the AEOI.
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.
There had been a great deal of lobbying in Washington to stop the latest waivers as Trump sought to exert more pressure on Iran.
“We will closely monitor all developments in Iran’s nuclear programme and Secretary [Mike] Pompeo can end these projects as developments warrant,” Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, told a news briefing.
The moves come weeks after the US and Iran came to the brink of war. Washington assassinated Iranian military commander Qassem Solemani in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.
Under the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers – the UK, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of economic sanctions that had crippled its economy.
Trump unilaterally abandoned the deal in May 2018, and reimposed US sanctions in a “maximum pressure” campaign designed to force Iran to return to the negotiating table.
In November, Washington terminated the sanctions waiver related to Iran’s Fordow nuclear plant after Tehran resumed uranium enrichment at the underground site.
“There was a difference of opinion between the US Treasury and State Department. The Treasury won,” a Western diplomat told Reuters News Agency. “There is an appetite for more sanctions, so this was a surprise; but others argue that these waivers are vital to ensure nonproliferation.”
Washington, on Thursday, also placed Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the AEOI, and the organization itself under US sanctions, Hook said.
The decision to sanction Salehi and the AEOI would have an impact on Iran’s civilian nuclear programme because it has operational control over it, including purchasing parts for nuclear facilities.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio expressed discontent over the waiver renewal. “While I am glad to see new sanctions imposed against Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and its chief, the administration should terminate the controversial sanctions waivers on Iran’s civil nuclear programme and exert maximum pressure on the regime in Tehran,” he said in a statement.
Last week, three Republican senators known to be close to Trump – Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina – had called for the remaining civil nuclear waivers to be rescinded. “Enough is enough,” the senators and Republican legislator Liz Cheney said in a joint statement.
The diplomat said the US had likely opted to extend the Bushehr waiver because the Russian company targeted also provides nuclear fuel to US facilities, causing a potential sanctions headache for the administration.
“Imposing sanctions … is a political game played by Washington. These sanctions have no value and are childish measures,” AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iran’s Fars news agency.