The United States plans to allow Russian, Chinese, and European companies to continue work at Iranian nuclear facilities to make it harder for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The Trump administration, which last year pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, will let the work go forward by issuing waivers to sanctions that bar non-U.S. firms from dealing with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said the sources on condition of anonymity.
While the waivers' renewal would allow non-proliferation work to continue at the Arak heavy water research reactor and the Fordow fuel enrichment plant, which AEOI oversees, it may also signal that Washington is leaving the door open to diplomacy.
"Yes, we issued the waiver and understand the differing views and sensitivities involved," one U.S. official told The Washington Free Beacon.
Under the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers — Great Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States — Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions that had crippled its economy.
When U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the deal in May 2018, he re-imposed U.S. sanctions in a "maximum pressure" campaign designed to force Iran to return to the negotiating table.
Trump wants a broader deal that would also limit Iran's missile program as well as its regional activities; Iran has demanded the United States first resume complying with the 2015 deal called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
France, in particular, has sought to bring the two into a wider dialog but has so far failed, suggesting neither is yet willing to abandon core elements of policy: the U.S. belief that pressure will bring Iran to its knees, and Iran's refusal to capitulate to U.S. duress.
Under the 2015 deal, the Arak reactor was to be redesigned to render it unable to make bomb-grade plutonium under normal operation, while the Fordow plant was to stop enriching uranium and be converted into a nuclear, physics, and technology center.
Chinese state-owned China National Nuclear Corp has done non-proliferation work at Arak, and Russia's Rosatom has done it at Fordow. Rosatom has also provided uranium fuel for Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant.
The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment. Rosatom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a joint statement, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told the Free Beacon, "These waivers allow Iran to build up its nuclear program, including at their Fordow nuclear bunker, which they dug out of the side of a mountain to build nuclear weapons. Iran is now openly violating the nuclear deal and stockpiling dangerous nuclear material. There is no justification for letting them continue to build up their program. We intend to work with our congressional colleagues to advance legislation to reverse this misguided decision."
A China National Nuclear Corp spokesman told Reuters on Thursday by email that it was "starting to cooperate with the Iranian side under guidance from Beijing on seeking a positive solution to the Iran nuclear problem." It did not provide further details.
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