Trump administration renews waivers for Iranian civil nuclear work

Trump administration renews waivers for Iranian civil nuclear work
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The Trump administration is renewing three key waivers that allow European allies, China and Russia to cooperate with Iran on civil nuclear programs.

The administration will renew the waivers for Iran’s Fordow, Bushehr and Arak nuclear facilities for 90 days instead of the 180 days the original waivers were for, the State Department announced Friday afternoon.

Two other waivers, one that allowed Iran to ship surplus heavy water to Oman and another that allowed Russia to process Iranian uranium, will be revoked.

In announcing the decision, the State Department emphasized the revocations, not the renewals.

"The Trump administration continues to hold the Iranian regime accountable for activities that threaten the region’s stability and harm the Iranian people," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. "This includes denying Iran any pathway to a nuclear weapon. As part of the administration’s unprecedented maximum pressure campaign to address the full range of Iran’s destructive activities, Secretary Pompeo has today tightened restrictions on the regime’s nuclear program."

Renewing most waivers "preserves oversight" of Iran's nuclear program, Ortagus added.

"We reserve the right to revoke or modify our policy covering these nonproliferation activities at any time if Iran violates its nuclear obligations or commitments or we conclude that such projects no longer provide value in constraining Iranian nuclear activities," she said.

The decision to renew most of the waivers comes after the Trump administration took other steps to crack down on Iran.

Last month, the administration announced it would not renew sanctions waivers on Iranian oil purchases. The waivers officially expired Thursday.

The administration also took the unprecedented step of designating Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a “foreign terrorist organization.”

The waivers for civil nuclear cooperation were first granted in November when the administration reimposed all the sanctions that had been lifted under the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.

The waivers, which are up for renewal Sunday, allow countries to help Iran convert its nuclear facilities to non-military purposes in line with the nuclear accord.

Iran hardliners inside and outside the administration, hoping to drive a stake through the heart of the nuclear deal, have been pushing the State Department to end all the waivers.

“Let me urge you and urge the department unequivocally not to grant the nuclear waivers and not to grant the oil waivers,” Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump has had a rough October Hillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters MORE (R-Texas) told Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoDiplomat who raised Ukraine concerns to testify in Trump impeachment probe Overnight Defense: Trump weighs leaving some troops in Syria to 'secure the oil' | US has pulled 2,000 troops from Afghanistan | Pelosi leads delegation to Afghanistan, Jordan Mulvaney faces uncertain future after public gaffes MORE at a hearing last month. “I think maximum pressure should mean maximum pressure.”

Supporters of the nuclear deal, though, argued it was in U.S. national security interest to renew the waivers because they ensure Iran’s nuclear work remains non-military by allowing an international eye into the facilities.

Renewing the waivers also avoids a rift with European allies, such as deal signatories France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Fordow, which was originally a secret underground uranium enrichment facility, is being converted into a nuclear physics and technology center under the terms of the deal.

Arak is the site of an unfinished heavy water reactor Iran was building before the deal. Iran destroyed the heart of the reactor as part of the deal, and now China and the United Kingdom are overseeing work on a replacement reactor for non-weapons grade plutonium. 

Bushehr is a civil nuclear reactor that is fueled by the Russians, who have been ensuring the spent fuel does not pose a proliferation risk.

Updated at 5:09 p.m.