(May 27, 2020 / JNS) The Trump administration announced that it would end waivers that have allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to continuously operate at Iranian nuclear facilities, ending the last vestiges of sanctions relief under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“The Iranian regime has continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday.
Pompeo accused Iran of “nuclear extortion” and said that sanctions “will lead to increased pressure on Iran and further isolate the regime from the international community.”
Pompeo also announced additional sanctions on two officials in Iran’s atomic energy agency who are involved in the development and product of centrifuges to enrich uranium.
The United States has continuously extended the civilian nuclear waivers under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, since withdrawing from it in May 2018. The Trump administration has reimposed sanctions lifted under it, along with enacting new financial penalties against the regime as part of what the administration has called a “maximum pressure” campaign.
The last extension, in March, was again for another 60 days.
The waivers would be revoked for the Arak heavy-water research reactor and the Tehran Research Reactor, where the fuel is provided by Russia, which also removes the facility’s spent fuel after it’s used in the reactor.
The waiver for the Bushehr nuclear power plant will be extended for 90 days to “help ensure the safety of operations at the plant,” according to a State Department memo that was cited by The Washington Post, which first reported the move to end the waivers ahead of Pompeo’s announcement.
The agreement between Iran and world powers has allowed Tehran to continue its nuclear program within certain limits in exchange for lifting of economic sanctions.
“The waivers are a casualty of the administration’s no-nonsense approach toward international legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear activities,” Andrea Stricker, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS. “The cancellation of three of the four waivers foreshadows a likely U.S.-led effort to end the JCPOA at the UN Security Council and restore international sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program.”
Richard Goldberg, who served as director for countering Iran’s weapons of mass destruction at the White House National Security Council under Trump, told JNS that “It’s long overdue to end the JCPOA-connected waivers. That is an important step toward ending the Iran deal once and for all and returning the international standard to viewing Iran’s nuclear program in its reality.
“And that is an illicit program which continues to be rooted in a long-term ambition for nuclear weapons and, therefore, the idea that you would authorize international support to legitimize that program is simply outrageous particularly when the [International Atomic Energy Agency] is going to report in the coming days about Iran’s continued breach of its safeguards agreements by concealing nuclear material, nuclear activities and nuclear sites likely connected to its past work on nuclear weapons.”
Regarding Bushehr, Goldberg explained that the facility “became active well before the JCPOA. This is actually an issue that goes back decades that the Bush administration failed to address, and now is a reality inside Iran and is an active nuclear power plant, which means you have nonproliferation concerns to ensure that someone is providing the fuel and taking back the fuel so Iran can’t divert any of the spent fuel.
“You also have safety issues that if technical experts were to pull out, what you have is some sort of meltdown at the plant and then you have economic issues for the market of uranium because the United States has a dependence on foreign supplies of uranium, including from Russia, threatening one of the suppliers of U.S. nuclear power plants complicates U.S. interests.”
Therefore, he continued, regarding the Bushehr plant, “we need to have a policy discussion on whether or not Iran should be allowed to retain a working nuclear power plant in the future [and] whether that is an acceptable end state.”
Goldberg added that Bushehr “was not in any way connected to a nuclear-weapons capability. It is, in fact, a light-water reactor. It is a nuclear power plant that can produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes” and that the facility can’t “be decommissioned overnight.”
Robert Einhorn, who served as the U.S. Department of State special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control in the Obama administration, told JNS in January that “revoking remaining waivers would not mark the complete withdrawal of the U.S. from the JCPOA. The U.S. has already completely withdrawn. It no longer considers itself bound by any of its commitments.
“Sanctions against dealing with Iran’s nuclear organizations are U.S. sanctions. In the absence of sanctions waivers, foreign entities (e.g., Chinese, Russian, British) cooperating with Iran’s nuclear organizations on JCPOA-mandated projects (e.g., converting the Arak heavy water reactor) would be subject to sanctions,” he said. “So revoking remaining waivers could put an end to those projects, which serve important nonproliferation goals, and drive another nail into the JCPOA’s coffin.”
Also on Wednesday, Pompeo announced U.S. sanctions against Majid Agha’i and Amjad Sazgar, managing director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, “for engaging or attempting to engage in activities that have materially contributed to, or pose a risk of materially contributing to, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
Agha’I, according to Pompeo, “has also been centrally involved in Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuge operations, and is a manager in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran subsidiary responsible for research and development of advanced centrifuges.”
Finally, Pompeo said, “A regime that just days ago invoked ‘The Final Solution’ and which regularly threatens to wipe Israel off the map must never obtain a nuclear weapon. The United States welcomes the international community’s widespread condemnation of the regime’s recent anti-Semitic statements. The regime’s vile rhetoric only strengthens the international community’s resolve to counter its threats.”
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