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US renews Iran sanctions waiver for civilian nuclear activities

The waiver renewal comes as the United States and Iran consider a final text of an agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian listens during a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart at the Foreign Ministry headquarters, Tehran, Iran, June 23, 2022.

The Biden administration has notified Congress that it renewed a sanctions waiver allowing international cooperation on some of Iran’s civilian nuclear projects, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to Al-Monitor.

The waiver, which was set to expire this month, permits foreign companies to conduct certain non-proliferation work at Iranian nuclear sites without incurring US sanctions. Its renewal was expected, and the State Department notified lawmakers on Friday, congressional aides said. 

A department spokesperson said Tuesday that the United States renewed the sanctions waiver “to facilitate third country participation in certain projects related to nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear safety in Iran.”

“This is not a signal that we are about to reach an understanding on a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the spokesperson said, using the acronym for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

The spokesperson added that the United States is unaware of any specific transaction facilitated by the previous waiver, but said that “the waiver leaves open the possibility of nonproliferation- and safety-related projects that would be in our national interest.” 

The Trump administration, which pulled out of the landmark nuclear deal in 2018, approved waivers before later rescinding them in May 2020 as part of its maximum pressure campaign against Tehran. 

President Joe Biden has sought to reenter the JCPOA. His administration restored the waiver as a revived accord seemed within reach this February, describing it as necessary to “facilitate discussions that would help to close a deal.” 

The waiver applied to civilian activities at sites including the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Arak heavy water reactor and the Tehran Research Reactor.

The waiver renewal comes as Washington and Tehran inch closer to an agreement that would put limits on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The European Union, which has mediated the indirect talks, circulated on Monday what it described as a “final text” to revive the tattered deal. 

Republicans are mostly unified in their opposition to reviving the nuclear deal. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the waiver renewal “shameful” and “a gift” to Russia. 

“This [administration] continues to surrender leverage in its desperation to strike a deal with Iran,” he tweeted. “Time to walk away.”

The administration in recent months has imposed multiple rounds of sanctions targeting the sale of Iranian oil and petrochemical products, in an effort to pressure Iran to resume compliance with the nuclear deal. Last week, the State and Treasury departments blacklisted several companies for alleged involvement in Iran’s international petroleum trade.

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