U.S. to Stop Allowing Foreign Companies to Facilitate Iran’s Civil Nuclear Program
28 May 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would stop allowing foreign companies to facilitate Iran’s civil nuclear activities, a core provision of the 2015 international nuclear agreement.

Tehran has “continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities,” Mr. Pompeo said Wednesday in a statement announcing his decision.

The Trump administration withdrew from the agreement in May 2018 and has ratcheted up U.S. sanctions against Iran while pressuring the remaining parties—China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K.—to dismantle the deal entirely. The State Department has been urging the United Nations Security Council to renew a conventional-weapons embargo against Iran that is set to expire in October.

Mr. Pompeo said waivers which protect foreign firms from U.S. sanctions for helping Iran convert its Arak reactor to produce less plutonium, will expire in 60 days. So will the waivers for the provision of enriched uranium for Iran’s Tehran Research Reactor, and for importing Iran’s spent and scrapped research reactor fuel. He said the U.S. is providing a 90-day extension to the waiver for work on the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant over safety concerns, but warned that allowance could also change depending on Iran’s activities.

Mr. Pompeo also announced sanctions against two officials of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Majid Agha’i and Amjad Sazgar, 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.”

Officials said the Treasury Department would add Messrs. Agha’i and Sazgar to its list of specially designated nationals.

Opponents of the 2015 nuclear deal said the continued waivers for work on Iran’s nuclear facilities would help Tehran safeguard key elements of a nuclear program as the temporary restrictions built into the agreement expire.

Department officials framed the termination of the waivers as another step in the progression of the administration’s pressure campaign against Iran, and pointed to the country’s economic crisis as a bulwark against further escalation.

Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said the U.S. government’s assessment is that returning the Arak reactor to its prior design would require “a number of years and quite a bit of money” that the regime doesn’t have. He also expressed doubt that the country has the requisite expertise to complete such work, saying prior efforts relied upon foreign assistance.

Further, Mr. Ford said that Iran’s efforts thus far, even where they violated the nuclear agreement, have been measured in nature due to its desire to preserve the deal. Work to create a plutonium production reactor, by contrast, would be “an extraordinary provocation,” he said.

Critics of the U.S. approach say it will prod Iran into quitting the accord, revving up its nuclear work and allowing the facilities to be retooled for that work. European diplomats have consistently lobbied Washington not to undercut provisions of the 2015 agreement designed to reduce Iran’s nuclear-proliferation threat.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to convert some of its most important nuclear facilities in ways that would curb Tehran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon through the production of enriched uranium or plutonium.

A waiver for foreign companies helping Iran to convert its underground Fordow uranium-enrichment facility had already been scrapped after Iran started enriching uranium there last year.

By Courtney McBride and Laurence Norman, The Wall Street Journal, 27 May 2020

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