US extends nuclear waivers, puts new sanctions on Iran
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US extends nuclear waivers, puts new sanctions on Iran

Nuclear deal critics slam decision to continue allowing foreign companies to work at Iranian civil nuclear facilities without penalties

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, staff work in the turbine building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant near the southern Iranian port city of Bushehr, February 25, 2009. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Liang Youchang)
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, staff work in the turbine building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant near the southern Iranian port city of Bushehr, February 25, 2009. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Liang Youchang)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is keeping alive one of the last remaining components of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal by extending sanctions waivers that allow foreign companies to work with Iran’s civilian nuclear program without US penalties.

The waivers had been due to expire Tuesday but were extended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for another 90 days. The extensions were not announced until Thursday.

Pompeo has been a champion of President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign on Iran.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the move “will help preserve oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program, reduce proliferation risks, constrain Iran’s ability to shorten its ‘breakout time’ to a nuclear weapon, and prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes.”

Pompeo also announced new sanctions on Iran’s construction sector, which he determined to be under the control of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC was designated earlier this year as a “foreign terrorist organization.”

Illustrative: Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade, marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in the capital Tehran, on September 22, 2018. (AFP/STR)

Restrictions were also announced on specific materials which could be used for nuclear work or weapons programs.

Trump withdrew last year from the nuclear deal and has steadily ramped up sanctions on Iran that had been eased under the agreement. But the so-called “civilian nuclear cooperation” waivers will permit European, Russian and Chinese companies to continue to work at Iranian civilian nuclear facilities.

Nuclear deal critics, including Trump allies like Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, have long argued that the waivers should be revoked because they give Iran access to technology that could be used for weapons.

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

In particular, they have targeted a waiver that allows conversion work at the once-secret Fordow site. The other facilities are the Bushehr nuclear power station, the Arak heavy water plant and the Tehran Research Reactor.

“This is disappointing and another lost opportunity to tear up the catastrophic Obama-Iran nuclear deal once and for all,” Cruz and Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement. “President Trump should immediately order his administration to stop issuing civil nuclear waivers.”

They said they would soon advance legislation “to reverse this misguided decision.”

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 on nuclear isotopes that can be used in medicine at the Tehran reactor, is humanitarian in nature.

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