Intel: Trump administration defended Iran nuclear waivers as 'restrictions,' then ended them

al-monitor US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at the State Department in Washington, May 20, 2020.  Photo by Nicholas Kamm/Pool via REUTERS.

May 27, 2020

The Donald Trump administration today ended sanctions waivers that allowed foreign companies to do work at certain Iranian nuclear facilities. The move comes a mere two months after the administration had characterized the waivers as “restrictions” on Iran’s nuclear program.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would end three of the remaining waivers — some of the last remnants of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — after a two-month wind-down period. At the same time, he announced that the United States would renew a fourth waiver for three months.

“The Iranian regime has continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities,” Pompeo said in a statement. “These escalatory actions are unacceptable, and I cannot justify renewing the waiver for these [nuclear deal-related] activities as a result.”

Two of the waivers Pompeo ended today had allowed companies from Europe, Russia and China to help redesign the Arak heavy water reactor to cut its potential plutonium output and transfer enriched uranium into Iran for the Tehran Research Reactor. The third waiver allowed Iran to export scrap research reactor fuel.

The fourth waiver, which Pompeo renewed today, allows those companies to continue operating at the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant “to ensure safety of operations.”

Why it matters: The State Department has come under intense pressure from Republican hawks in Congress to end all of Iran’s civil nuclear waivers since President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018. The announcement today indicates that the hawks have made significant headway in the debate, but it also marks a noticeable change in tune from the State Department’s talking points when Pompeo last renewed the waivers in March. At the time, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus framed the waivers as “restrictions on the Iranian regime’s nuclear program” while vowing to “use the full range of our diplomatic and economic tools to constrain Iran’s destabilizing activities.”

This week’s sanctions: Pompeo also announced sanctions on two Iranian individuals – Majid Agha’I and Amjad Sazgar – for their involvement in Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuge operations.

What’s next: Iran has tripled its stockpile of low-enriched uranium over the limits spelled out in the nuclear deal following Trump’s 2018 withdrawal. Now that Iran no longer import enriched uranium for its research reactors, it remains to be seen whether Tehran will opt to further increase its enrichment levels.

Know more: Pompeo is also threatening to try snapping back Iran sanctions at the United Nations unless the Security Council agrees to extend the conventional arms embargo on Tehran, which expires in October. Bryant Harris has that story here.

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