U.S. to revoke Iran nuclear cooperation sanctions waivers

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press briefing at the State Department on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool Photo via AP)

The Trump administration is ending nearly all of the last vestiges of U.S. sanctions relief provided under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to current and former U.S. officials and congressional aides.

They said Wednesday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will revoke all but one of sanctions waivers covering civil nuclear cooperation. The waivers had allowed Russian, European and Chinese companies to continue to work on Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities without drawing American penalties.

The waivers were last renewed at the end of March and are due to expire at the end of the week. The revocations will give foreign companies 60 days to wind down their operations, according to the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity. A formal announcement was expected on Thursday.

Pompeo in March had opposed extending the waivers, which are among the few remaining components of the nuclear deal that the administration has not canceled. But officials said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had prevailed in an internal debate by arguing the coronavirus pandemic made eliminating the waivers unpalatable at a time when the administration is being criticized for refusing to ease sanctions to deal with the outbreak.

President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and has steadily reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran that had been eased or lifted under its terms. The “civilian-nuclear cooperation” waivers allow foreign companies to do work at some of Iran’s declared nuclear sites without becoming subject to U.S. sanctions.

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.

But Iran critics in Congress have pressed Pompeo to eliminate all the waivers, saying they should be revoked because they give Iran access to technology that could be used for weapons. These critics strenuously objected to the waiver that allowed work at Iran’s once-secret Fordow facility, which is built into a mountain.

Pompeo canceled that waiver in mid-December but the others, which permit work at the Bushehr nuclear power station, the Arak heavy water plant and the Tehran Research Reactor, had been kept in place until now. The waiver for work at Bushehr will be the only one extended for 90 days.