EghtesadOnline: A senior official said the US move to impose sanctions on Iran’s nuclear chief shows Washington’s desperation in dealing with Tehran.
“Imposing sanctions on Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, is a worthless political game, and has been done out of desperation,” AEOI Spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi was quoted as saying by IRNA.
According to Financial Tribune, he added that “such measures will not impact our nuclear program and Tehran’s peaceful nuclear activities will continue with full force based on our requirements”.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi also said targeting Salehi is a move “out of despair and anger”, indicating that the US “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran has reached a dead end.
The US administration on Thursday said it will allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue their work at Iranian nuclear sites, arguing that their presence makes it harder for Tehran to have any deviation in its nuclear program, which Tehran says is exclusively for civilian purposes.
But the US also imposed sanctions on Iran’s top nuclear official.
The Trump administration, which in 2018 pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, will let the work go forward by issuing waivers to sanctions that bar non-US firms from dealing with AEOI, Reuters reported.
The waivers’ renewal for 60 days will allow work to continue at Arak Heavy-Water Research Reactor, Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, Tehran Research Reactor and other nuclear cooperation initiatives.
Leading Republican senators and other Iran hawks had lobbied intensively to stop the latest waivers, as US President Donald Trump seeks to exert more pressure on Iran after the two longtime foes came toward the brink of war earlier this month.
“We will closely monitor all developments in Iran’s nuclear program and Secretary [Mike] Pompeo can end these projects as developments warrant,” Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, told a news briefing.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio expressed discontent with the waiver renewal.
“While I am glad to see new sanctions imposed against Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and its chief, the administration should terminate the controversial sanctions waivers on Iran’s civil nuclear program and exert maximum pressure on … Tehran,” Rubio said in a statement.
The waivers are a rare breather in a hardened US policy toward Iran. The latest development follows weeks of extreme tension after Washington assassinated top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, on Trump’s order and Iran retaliated with a missile strike on bases in Iraq housing US troops.
Under the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers—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 severely affected its economy.
Trump unilaterally abandoned the deal in May 2018 and reimposed US sanctions in a “maximum pressure” campaign designed to compel Iran to enter into negotiation on a new deal.
Washington in November terminated the sanctions waiver related to Iran’s Fordow nuclear plant after Tehran resumed uranium enrichment at the underground site.
“There was a difference of opinion between the US Treasury and State Department. The Treasury won,” a western diplomat said. “There is an appetite for more sanctions, so this was a surprise; but others argue that these waivers are vital to ensure nonproliferation.”
The decision to sanction Salehi and AEOI could have an impact on Iran’s civilian nuclear program because it has operational control over the program, including purchasing parts for nuclear facilities.
Last week, three Republican senators known to be close to Trump, namely Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, had called for the remaining civil nuclear waivers to be rescinded.
The diplomat said the United States had likely opted to extend the Bushehr waiver because the Russian company targeted also provides nuclear fuel to US facilities, causing a potential sanctions headache for the administration.