Biden restores Iran sanctions waver in scramble to return to nuke deal

Biden restores Iran sanctions waver in scramble to return to nuke deal

President Biden has restored sanctions waivers allowing for certain countries to participate in Iranian civil nuclear projects as the administration presses forward on talks to salvage the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.

The State Department said the waivers were not granted as part of a “concession to Iran” but were “issued as part of a policy discretion.”

“We are issuing the waiver now for a simple reason: it will enable some of our international partners to have more detailed technical discussions to enable cooperation that we view as being in our non-proliferation interests,” a senior State Department official said.

The administration said restoring the waivers was critical for returning to the negotiating table with Iran in the hopes of returning to the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“The waiver with respect to these activities is designed to facilitate discussions that would help to close a deal on a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and lay the groundwork for Iran’s return to performance of its JCPOA commitments,” the State Department said in a notice to Congress obtained by the Associated Press.

The so-called “civ-nuke” waivers restored by the Biden Administration specifically allow third countries to work on Iranian civil nuclear projects at the Bushehr nuclear power station, Arak heavy water power, and Tehran Research Reactor.

“Absent this sanctions waiver, detailed technical discussions with third parties regarding the disposition of stockpiles and other activities of nonproliferation value cannot take place,” a senior State Department official said.

Mr. Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed the sanctions that had previously been lifted as part of the accord. 

Mr. Trump maintained the “civ-nuke” waivers until May 2020, when he removed them as part of his “maximum pressure” campaign.

Mr. Biden has committed to returning to the deal, and U.S. officials have warned that the administration has just weeks to reach an agreement given Iran’s nuclear development progress. 

Tehran is demanding that the administration restore sanctions relief granted under the original deal.

Lawmakers have been critical of the administration for reentering the negotiations despite Tehran’s blatant disregard for its commitments under the agreement.

“I am deeply concerned these waivers show the administration is preparing to cut a nuclear deal with Iran that would be worse than the original JCPOA,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee from Texas. “We already know that Iran will enter any new deal closer to amassing enough fuel for a nuclear weapon than it was under the JCPOA.”

“Another bad deal is worse for our national security than no deal,” he said.

-This story includes wire reports