The administration of US President Donald Trump has extended sanctions relief for Iran to uphold Washington’s part of the 2015 landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers.
The United States "continues to waive sanctions as required" to continue implementing the nuclear deal, the US State Department announced on Wednesday.
Under the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to limit parts of its peaceful nuclear program in exchange for the removal of all nuclear-related sanctions imposed by the US.
Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama renewed the waivers days before he left the White House in January. Some of the waivers would expire if Trump refuses to extend them this week.
Unnamed officials earlier told Reuters earlier that Washington had already noted Iranian officials that the waivers would remain in place.
“If they don’t renew the waivers they will have a big mess on their hands,” Timothy O’Toole, a sanctions attorney at a US law firm told Financial Times. "Iran would have no impediment to restarting its nuclear program.”
The decision poses a major challenge to Trump, who has been critical of the deal.
As a candidate in the 2016 presidential election, Trump frequently criticized the JCPOA as “the worst deal ever negotiated,” but offered conflicting opinions on whether he would try to scrap it, renegotiate its terms or keep it in place.
After accusing Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the deal, the new Republican president said in April that his administration was analyzing the JCPOA and would “have something to say about it in the not-too-distant future.”
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Meanwhile, former US Secretary of State John Kerry and national security experts from the administration of former President Barack Obama have thrown their weight behind a newly formed organization called “Diplomacy Works,” which aims to which aims defend the nuclear deal.
Shortly before Trump’s January 20 inauguration, Kerry said the nuclear accord was one of Obama's policy victories and warned Trump that canceling it would harm the US in an irreparable way.
The waiver extension comes as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose government pushed hard to achieve the deal, faces off with his rivals in the campaign run for the May 19 presidential vote.
US Treasury sanctions two Iran officials
Meanwhile in a surprising move on the same day the Trump administration waived other, broader sanctions on Iran, the Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on two Iranian defense officials, an Iranian company and members of a China-based network.
"These sanctions target Iranian officials as well as a China-based network that are providing support to Syria and supplying items to further Iran's ballistic weapons program," the Treasury statement said.
The United States claims that Iran's missile tests violated Resolution 2231, which was adopted in July 2015 to endorse the nuclear agreement.
Iranian officials say the country has carried out the missile tests as part of its program to boost defense capabilities, rejecting claims that the tests were in violation of Resolution 2231.