US cancels Iran nuclear cooperation waiver after Fordo restart

US cancels Iran nuclear cooperation waiver after Fordo restart

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Tehran has no reason to restart enrichment at once-secret Fordo facility, but critics note allowances had given rare window into site

A satellite image from April 2, 2016, of the Fordo nuclear facility in Iran. (Google Earth)
A satellite image from April 2, 2016, of the Fordo nuclear facility in Iran. (Google Earth)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that he is canceling one of four sanctions waivers that had allowed foreign companies to work with Iran’s civilian nuclear program without US penalties. Pompeo also warned Iran’s leadership not to crack down on protests that recent fuel price increases have sparked.

The waivers are among the last remaining components of the 2015 nuclear deal, which the Trump administration withdrew from last year.

Pompeo said the waiver for Iran’s once-secret Fordo site will be eliminated December 15. Iran recently announced it would resume uranium enrichment at the fortified facility, which is built into a mountain.

“The right amount of uranium enrichment for the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism is zero,” he said. “There is no legitimate reason for Iran to resume enrichment at this previously clandestine site. Iran should reverse its activity there immediately.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, November 18, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Iran hawks in Congress have been pressing Pompeo to eliminate all the waivers, but have most strenuously objected to the one that allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to work at Fordo. The waivers for Fordo as well as the Bushehr nuclear power station, the Arak heavy water plant and the Tehran Research Reactor were last extended in late October.

Nuclear deal critics, including Trump allies like Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas and GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, have long argued that the waivers should be revoked because they give Iran access to technology that could be used for weapons. In particular, they have targeted a waiver that allows conversion work at the once-secret Fordo.

They had announced plans to introduce legislation requiring the administration to cancel the waivers.

Deal supporters say the waivers give international experts a valuable window into Iran’s atomic program that might otherwise not exist. They also say some of the work, particularly at the Tehran reactor on nuclear isotopes that can be used in medicine, is humanitarian in nature.

The protests around Iran have led to a curtailment in Iranians’ internet access, and some of them have been met with violent responses.

Pompeo said Iran “must cease violence against its own people and must immediately restore the ability of all Iranians to access a free and open internet. The world is watching.”

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