The Biden administration has restored a sanctions waiver that will allow countries to cooperate with Iran on civil nuclear projects, two senior US officials said Friday, a move that comes as US officials warn that there are only weeks left to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The senior State Department official said the waiver “is not a concession to Iran,” nor is it “a signal that we are about to reach an understanding on a mutual return to full implementation of the” Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear agreement.
However, the move comes as officials involved in the ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at saving the deal – which the US abandoned in 2018 and from which Iran has been increasingly non-compliant – have reached a phase that requires “political decisions” to be made quickly. The latest round of talks has been adjourned since last Friday.
“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,” the official said.
The official added that “the technical discussions facilitated by the waiver are necessary in the final weeks of JCPOA talks, and the waiver itself would be essential to ensuring Iran’s swift compliance with its nuclear commitments.”
“If talks do not result in a return to the nuclear agreement, such technical discussions could still contribute to achieving our non-proliferation goals,” they said.
A congressional aide told CNN that Capitol Hill had been notified of the waiver restoration.
The waivers will allow companies and countries to continue work on civil nuclear projects at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station, Arak heavy water plant and the Tehran Research Reactor.
The Trump administration issued a sanctions waiver for such work under the 2015 deal even after they withdrew from the agreement in 2018, saying it helped to “preserve oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program” and “reduce proliferation risks.”
However, in May 2020, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the US would end the sanctions waiver.
The senior State Department official described the restoration of the waiver, which was first reported by the AP, as a return to the “status quo.”
Iran has increasingly broken away from its commitments under the agreement, and US officials have warned that there are only weeks left to return to the deal given Iran’s rapid nuclear developments. Tehran has called for broad sanctions relief before coming back into compliance with the deal.
A senior administration official said Iran did not ask for the waiver to be restored and claimed they do not view it as sanctions relief.
“The only way for Iran to get ‘sanctions relief’ under the waiver is to implement the projects, which would be an unambiguous win for us, since it would be partial re-implementation of the JCPOA,” the administration official said.
Behnam Ben Taleblu from the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) told CNN that “issuing waivers to permit civil nuclear cooperation with Iran at a time when Iran is violating the JCPOA is a strategic mistake.”
He also noted that “news of the waiver is the clearest sign thus far that a resurrected Iran deal could be coming.”