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"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Iran

IAEA Says Iran Abiding by Nuclear Deal


April 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

The head of the international organization charged with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal said Iran is meeting its obligations under the accord and warned against states trying to influence verification activities. Less than three weeks later, the United States imposed sanctions against Iranian officials and institutions that Washington alleges are working to retain nuclear weapons-related expertise in Iran.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano cautioned in March that some nations' efforts to micromanage the nuclear agency's monitoring of Iran would threaten the credibility of its findings. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)“Iran is implementing its nuclear commitments,” said Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in March 4 remarks to the agency’s Board of Governors. Amano urged Tehran to continue adhering to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The United States, which withdrew from the agreement in 2018, levied new sanctions on March 22 against Iran’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, purported to employ staff from Iran’s past nuclear weapons research activities.

“This is a way for them to keep the gang together, as it were, and to provide a reconstitution capability for that weapons program,” said a senior administration official briefing the media March 22. The sanctions impose travel and commercial restrictions on 14 individuals and 17 entities.

The IAEA quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, released publicly just days after Amano’s statement, contains additional details demonstrating that Iran is abiding by the deal’s terms. It notes that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is below the 300-kilogram cap set by the JCPOA and that Iran has not enriched uranium above the limit of 3.67 percent uranium-235, far below the 90 percent level considered useful for weapons purposes.

The report notes that the agency has had access to “all the sites and locations in Iran which it needed to visit.”

Amano also continued to defend the importance of the IAEA’s independence in evaluating information related to its efforts to monitor peaceful nuclear activities. He emphasized that the IAEA “undertakes analysis and takes action in an impartial, independent, and objective manner.”

Amano’s March 4 statement is not the first time that he has pushed back against attempts by some nations to direct the agency’s verification work. “If attempts are made to micromanage or put pressure on the agency in nuclear verification, that is counterproductive and extremely harmful,” he said, adding that “independent, impartial, and factual safeguards implementation is essential to maintain our credibility.”

Although Amano did not identify specific states, Israeli officials have called on the IAEA to visit undeclared sites in Iran and follow up on materials that Israel stole from an Iranian archive in January 2018 and shared with the agency later in the year. In September at the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu specifically called on the IAEA to visit a site identified by Israeli intelligence as housing materials and documents related to Iran’s past nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, October 2018.)

Despite reports of the United States promising Israel that it would pressure the IAEA to follow up on the archival material, Jackie Wolcott, U.S. representative to the IAEA, appeared to defend the agency’s process during her March 5 remarks to the IAEA board. Wolcott said Iran must address questions raised by the archival material, but emphasized that the United States supports the “IAEA’s continued, careful assessment of the nuclear archive materials.” She said Washington has the “highest confidence that the agency will independently and professionally review these materials, in combination with all other available information, to appropriately inform its monitoring and verification activities in Iran.”

Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, said on March 8 that, “despite the many efforts of certain enemies” to “divert the attention of the IAEA,” cooperation between the agency and Iran is “constructive.”

The IAEA report raised the need for additional budgetary contributions from IAEA member states to meet the cost of implementing the JCPOA. IAEA monitoring activities in Iran are projected to cost 9.2 million euros ($10.4 million) in 2019, of which 4 million euros ($4.5 million) is extrabudgetary. The report noted that the agency has 3.1 million euros ($3.5 million) in extrabudgetary contributions available to meet the costs of JCPOA-related activities for 2019.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request includes $106 million to meet the U.S. assessed contribution to the IAEA, down slightly from the $111 million request in fiscal year 2019, but more than the $103 million appropriated last year. The budget request also includes $88 million in voluntary contributions to the IAEA, similar to requests over the past several years.

Although Iran continues to abide by the nuclear agreement, Gharibabadi emphasized that the remaining parties to the deal—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union—“must ensure Iran’s enjoyment of JCPOA-related benefits by adopting appropriate measures.”

Those parties to the deal have taken some steps to preserve trade with Iran after the United States reimposed sanctions in May 2018. These efforts, however, have provided few tangible benefits to date.

France, Germany, and the UK announced in February the creation of a financial mechanism to facilitate trade, known as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), that will initially focus on humanitarian goods exempt from U.S. sanctions. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Per Fischer, the German official heading INSTEX, visited Iran in early March to discuss the mechanism. Following his visit, Iranian officials said on March 19 that Tehran set up a counterpart to INSTEX, the Special Trade and Finance Institute, which should allow the trade mechanism to become operational.

Iran does not appear to be expecting much economic benefit from INSTEX. Bahram Qassemi, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said on March 19 that Iran does not expect the new mechanism to work “miracles” and will continue to pursue avenues of trade with other countries. He said that could include trade with China, Turkey, India, and Russia in their national currencies, bypassing the U.S. financial system.

 

Iran faces more U.S. sanctions as IAEA confirms its compliance with nuclear deal.

EU Trade Tool Seeks to Save Iran Nuclear Deal


March 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom established a trade mechanism in January designed to facilitate commercial transactions with Iran as the United States ratchets up pressure on Tehran. The new structure aims to allow European entities to maintain trade with Iran, but it remains unclear how the new arrangement will affect Iran’s commitment to the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (left), UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (center), and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met the press in Romania on Jan. 31 to announce the creation of a financial mechanism to enable European trade with Iran in the face of U.S. sanctions.  (Photo: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced in September 2018 that the European Union would pursue a trade mechanism, known then as the Special Purpose Vehicle, to bypass sanctions imposed by the United States following its May 2018 withdrawal from the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). (See ACT, June 2018.) Originally described as a tool for preserving legitimate trade with Iran, including oil sales, the mechanism, now known as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), will initially be limited to trade exempt from U.S. sanctions. INSTEX will operate like a barter system to coordinate payments for imports and exports, bypassing U.S. sanctions targeting Iranian banks and financial messaging services.

In a Jan. 31 statement announcing INSTEX, the French, German, and UK foreign ministers said the mechanism would focus “initially on the sectors most essential to the Iranian population,” such as pharmaceutical and agricultural goods and medical devices. They described INSTEX as a “first step” and committed to explore opening the mechanism to countries outside the EU interested in legitimate trade with Iran.

For INSTEX to become operational, Iran will need to set up a similar institution to coordinate payments in Tehran.

U.S. officials quickly dismissed and condemned INSTEX. At a Feb. 13–14 international ministerial summit on the Middle East in Warsaw hosted by the United States and Poland, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called INSTEX “an effort to break” U.S. sanctions against Iran and an “ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU, and create still more distance between Europe and the United States.” He called on Europe to “stop undermining U.S. sanctions on Iran” and to join the United States “as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed INSTEX on Feb. 14, saying that if it remains focused on humanitarian aid, INSTEX will “have nearly no impact” on the U.S. sanctions regime and U.S. goals to counter Iran.

Tehran welcomed the creation of INSTEX, said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi on Feb. 1, but he added that the mechanism comes “too late” and Iran has “not seen tangible results” from EU actions to preserve the nuclear deal. He called for the EU to accelerate its efforts so that Iran can “reap the economic benefits” of the nuclear deal.

Iran is likely referring to efforts to preserve oil sales, which INSTEX will not initially cover. U.S. sanctions that took effect in November require states importing oil from Iran to receive waivers from the United States or face sanctions. To be eligible for a waiver, states must make a “significant reduction” in oil purchases from Iran every 180 days. The United States granted waivers to eight states in November, but U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook said on Feb. 6 that “Iran’s oil customers should not expect new waivers to U.S. sanctions.” The current waivers expire in May.

Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, head of Iran’s Plan and Budget Organization, said in January that the country is already in “dire straits when it comes to exporting oil,” and Iranian officials have stated they will resume nuclear activities limited by the deal if implementing the agreement is no longer in Tehran’s interest.

Hook’s comment ruling out a second round of oil waivers is just one element of U.S. efforts to further isolate Iran and urge the remaining parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the EU) to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

At the Warsaw summit, for example, Pence urged Europe to “withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal” and said leaders agreed that Iran poses the “greatest threat to peace and security in the Middle East.” The summit, however, does not appear to have eroded Europe’s commitment to the nuclear deal.

Although German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas did not attend the Warsaw summit, he defended the Iran nuclear deal at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 15 and said Europe would be “a step closer to open confrontation” without the nuclear agreement. Mogherini also skipped the Warsaw summit, but said at the Munich conference that the nuclear deal is “fundamental and crucial” to Europen security and is “a fundamental pillar for the nuclear nonproliferation architecture globally."

Iran was not invited to the Warsaw summit, and Zarif dismissed the meeting’s attempt to isolate Iran as “dead on arrival,” describing it as “another attempt by the United States to pursue an obsession with Iran that is not well founded.”

The United States may also be pressuring the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit sites in Iran where past activities related to nuclear weapons development may have occurred.

 IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano warned against pressing the international nuclear watchdog, saying on Jan. 30 that “if attempts are made to micromanage or put pressure on the agency in nuclear verification, that is counterproductive and extremely harmful.”

He said that “independent, impartial, and factual safeguards implementation is essential to maintain that credibility.”

Although Amano did not refer to any specific state, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for the IAEA to investigate sites Israel identified as housing materials documenting Iran’s past nuclear weapons-related activities and follow up on information Israel took from Iran in 2018. U.S. officials reportedly told the Israeli government that the Trump administration would be more aggressive in pushing the IAEA to follow up on the information provided by Israel.

The documents Israel removed from Iran appear to relate to Iran’s past nuclear weapons development activities, and there is no indication from U.S. intelligence or the IAEA that Iran has resumed such activities. U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in the intelligence community's 2019 global threat assessment report that “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.”

 

Iranian Space Launch Attempts Draw U.S. Criticism

Two Iranian attempts to put satellites in orbit earlier this year drew quick condemnation from the United States, which wrongly charged that the launches defied a UN Security Council resolution.

A Jan. 15 launch attempt failed to orbit a satellite, Iran acknowledged. But Tehran has not publicly described the second launch, which took place in late January or early February based on satellite imagery of the Imam Khomeini Space Center. It is unclear if the second launch went as planned, but historically Iran has announced its successful attempts.

The Jan. 15 launch used the Simorgh three-stage launch vehicle, which failed during a prior launch attempt in 2017. Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s minister of communication and information technology, said afterward that the first two stages of the rocket fired successfully, but the third stage failed to place the Payam satellite into orbit approximately 500 kilometers above the earth.

The second launch likely used the two-stage Safir launch vehicle, which Iran has successfully used to launch satellites in the past.

The U.S. State Department condemned both launches and warned Iran against “continued defiance” of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which approved the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Neither the nuclear deal nor the resolution prohibits Iranian satellite launches. Resolution 2231 calls on Iran to refrain from activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, but the language is nonbinding and does not limit satellite launches.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Jan. 3 that rockets used to launch satellites “incorporate technologies that are virtually identical to that used in ballistic missiles, including in intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

Satellite launches can provide Iran with data relevant to ballistic missile development, but there are significant technical differences between satellite launch vehicles and long-range ballistic missiles, which must, for example, protect warheads during re-entry into the atmosphere.

Valdimir Ermakov, director of nonproliferation and arms control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, defended Iran’s right to launch satellites. He said on Feb. 12 that “UN Security Council resolutions do not prohibit Iran from independently” developing, testing, and producing space launch vehicles or ballistic missiles. —KELSEY DAVENPORT

European powers have developed a trade mechanism to enable commercial transactions with Iran
despite U.S. sanctions.

The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, Feb. 25, 2019

Pence Calls on Europeans to Leave JCPOA U.S. Vice President Mike Pence explicitly called on “our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal” in remarks at the Feb. 13-14 Warsaw summit on peace and security in the Middle East and at the Munich Security Conference Feb. 16. Pence’s criticism of the Iran deal did not appear to gain any traction with the major European powers, some of whom put forward a robust defense of their Iran policy and the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In separate remarks at the Munich conference, German Minister...

U.S. Global Summit on Iran Faces Pushback | The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, January 24, 2019

U.S. Global Summit on Iran Faces Pushback The United States and Poland are co-hosting a summit on Middle East stability with a particular focus on countering Iran, although several European foreign ministers are planning to skip the event. The ministerial-level meeting is scheduled for Feb. 13-14 in Warsaw. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News Jan. 11 that the summit will “focus on Middle East stability and peace, freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence." The Polish Ministry of...

U.S., Iran Spar Over Ballistic Missiles


January/February 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States and Iran sparred at the UN Security Council last month over Tehran’s ballistic missile program and allegations that Iran is violating UN restrictions on missile activities.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chats with Karen Pierce, UK permanent representative of to the UN, during the Security Council meeting on Iran held December 12, 2018. (Photo: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)The dispute at the Dec. 12 council meeting came as the United States is ratcheting up its rhetoric on the threat posed by Iran’s ballistic missile program and seeking support for more stringent restrictions. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the council session that the United States will “continue to be relentless in building a coalition of responsible nations who are serious in confronting the Iranian regime’s reckless ballistic missile activity.”

The meeting focused on a biannual report from UN Secretary-General António Guterres on implementation of Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran and put in place restrictions on the country’s ballistic missile and conventional arms activities. Ballistic missiles and conventional arms are not covered by the Iran nuclear deal.

“No nation can dispute that Iran is in open defiance” of Resolution 2231, Pompeo said.

The report, released Dec. 8, did not definitively conclude that Tehran violated UN provisions prohibiting the transfer of ballistic missiles, but it included evidence that missiles used by Houthi fighters in Yemen originated in Iran.

Debris from missiles that landed in Saudi Arabia bore features similar to Iranian ballistic missiles, the report said, and noted that the UN Secretariat would continue to try and determine if the systems were transferred before or after the council resolution entered into force in January 2016.

Pompeo said the United States has “hard evidence that Iran is providing missiles, training, and support” for the Houthis and transferring ballistic missiles to Shia militias in Iraq. He called on the Security Council to “establish inspection and interdiction measures” to “thwart Iran’s continuing efforts to circumvent” UN restrictions.

Iran, although not a member of the Security Council, was permitted to speak at the meeting. Eshagh Al Habib, Iran’s deputy ambassador to the UN, said Iran faces real threats and “will not and cannot compromise on its security and its conventional defensive capability.”

He also said the United States is in violation of Resolution 2231 by withdrawing from the nuclear deal and “punishing” states for supporting the resolution.

Resolution 2231 calls on all UN member states to support implementation of the nuclear deal and refrain from actions that undermine it. As a result of U.S. sanctions, foreign entities have pulled out of the Iranian market.

The report did not describe the U.S. reimposition of sanctions as a violation of Resolution 2231, but Guterres said that U.S. actions “do not advance the goals set out” in the resolution and expressed regret over the Trump administration’s actions.

The report detailed the dispute over whether Iran’s ballistic missile testing and use of ballistic missiles violated Resolution 2231, which also calls on Iran to refrain from developing ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

The resolution language on missile development is nonbinding, and there are different interpretations of what “designed to be nuclear capable” means. The Dec. 8 report quoted a letter from Iran arguing that there is no evidence that Iran’s ballistic missiles possess the necessary features for delivering nuclear weapons and the resolution does not prohibit Iran from pursing its ballistic missile program.

In a Nov. 20 letter to Guterres, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany described ballistic missiles fired by Iran into Syria in October as “inherently capable of [the] delivery [of] nuclear weapons.” The three countries did not describe the action as a violation of Resolution 2231, but said it constituted “an activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” saying it was “destabilizing and increased regional tensions.”

Iran acknowledged targeting terrorists in Syria that Tehran says were linked to an attack in Iran and argued that it was acting in “legitimate self-defense” recognized by the UN Charter.

Pompeo said the United States would work with other states to bring back more stringent restrictions on Iranian ballistic missiles, similar to those adopted by the Security Council in Resolution 1929 in 2010. That required Iran to halt development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which is commonly understood to include systems capable of delivering a 500 kilogram nuclear warhead a distance greater than 300 kilometers.

The restrictions in Resolution 1929 were superseded by Resolution 2231, but could be snapped back into place if one of the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States) overturns Resolution 2231. Pompeo did not indicate that the United States is planning to take that step at this time.

 

EU Advances Payment Channel for Iran

The European Union is making progress on an alternative payment channel for doing business with Iran, but the so-called special purpose vehicle will likely be limited to humanitarian transactions exempt from U.S. sanctions.

France and Germany reportedly have agreed to host the special purpose vehicle and are aiming to have it set up by early this year.

An alternative payment mechanism is necessary because U.S. sanctions, reimposed after President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in May, target Iranian banks and foreign financial institutions that facilitate financial transactions with Iran.

In September, the EU and Iran announced that they would set up the alternative payment mechanism, which is designed to preserve legitimate trade by setting up a barter-like system for entitles importing and exporting goods to Iran. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini initially said the special purpose vehicle would be designed to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran permitted by the 2015 nuclear deal, including payments for oil.

European officials have since indicated that the scope of the mechanism will be reduced to cover humanitarian trade exempt from U.S. sanctions, such as food and medicine. Despite the U.S. sanctions exemptions for humanitarian goods, it is difficult to find financial entities willing to process the transactions.

Bahram Ghasemi, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, rejected the idea that the special purpose vehicle will be limited to medicine and food. The mechanism “must cover a range of transactions and economic and industrial cooperation,” he said Dec. 17.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Dec. 12 that the United States will examine the payment mechanism when it is set up. The United States will not pursue sanctions penalties for activities consistent with humanitarian exemptions, but “to the extent that there are violations of our sanctions, we intend to enforce them with great rigor against any party who is a participant in those violations,” he said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a Dec. 8 report on implementation of Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal and called on all states to support it, that he welcomes “initiatives to protect the freedom” of entities pursing “legitimate business” with Iran.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accuses Tehran of being in “open defiance” of Security Council resolution.

Security Council Debates Latest UN Report on Resolution 2231

At a Dec. 12 UN Security Council meeting on Iran , U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again raised the specter of Iran’s ballistic missile program and called for more stringent missile restrictions than those currently in place under Resolution 2231 , which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear activities and imposed constraints on Iran’s ballistic missile and conventional arms activities. While Iran’s ballistic missile activities pose a regional threat and a proliferation risk, the Trump administration’s blatant mischaracterization of UN Security Council...

Europeans Advance Alternative Payment System for Iran | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, December 5, 2018

Europeans Advance Alternative Payment System for Iran Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that Iran will give the European Union more time to work out the details of its Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), destined to facilitate trade with Iran, but said that Tehran will not “wait forever.” While Iran remains in compliance with the multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that Tehran will abandon the agreement if it is no longer in the country’s best interest. The SPV, announced by EU foreign policy...

Iran Vows to Resist U.S. Sanctions


December 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran vowed to resist U.S. sanctions and continue implementing the nuclear deal after U.S. measures targeting its oil and banking sectors went back into effect.

Ahead of renewed sanctions imposed by the United States, Iranians protest November 4 outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, marking the anniversary of the start of the 1979 hostage crisis. At rallies in the capital and other Iranian cities, protesters carried placards that mock President Donald Trump, wiped their feet on fake dollar bills, and engaged in the ritual of burning the U.S. flag.  (Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)Although the sanctions are already curtailing Iran’s oil sales, the Trump administration did issue waivers Nov. 5 allowing seven countries (China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey) and Taiwan to continue purchasing oil from Iran. In addition, the Trump administration agreed to allow certain nonproliferation projects outlined under the Iran nuclear deal to proceed.

Preserving the nuclear cooperation projects and some oil revenue will likely provide Iran with enough benefit to continue complying with the nuclear deal, at least in the short term, even though Trump pulled the United States out of the accord. The oil waivers, however, only last six months.

Under the reimposed sanctions, states importing oil from Iran must make a “significant reduction” in purchases every 180 days to be eligible for a waiver. Unlike the Obama administration, which defined “significant reduction” at about a 20 percent cut, the Trump administration evaluated each country on case-by-case basis.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described the waivers as a victory for Iran because the United States initially said it would “reduce Iran’s oil sale to zero.” Rouhani also said on Nov. 5 that Iran will continue to sell oil and “break sanctions.”

In a Nov. 5 news conference on the sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the oil waivers as “temporary allotments to a handful of countries” in order to address “specific circumstances and to ensure a well-supplied oil market.” He noted that more than 20 states already eliminated oil imports from Iran, reducing the country’s oil exports by more than 1 million barrels per day.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif admitted that the sanctions will impact Iran’s economy, but said the sanctions “will not change policy” in Iran. He said the United States “has an addiction to sanctions” and that the country believes they are “the panacea that resolves” all problems.

The Trump administration has made clear that it intends to continue ratcheting up pressure. Pompeo said the “ultimate goal” remains to “convince the regime to abandon its current revolutionary course” and the campaign of economic pressure is “at the center of this effort.” Pompeo also said that the United States will continue to push the remaining eight nations permitted to buy oil from Iran to zero out their imports.

Administration officials say the effort is to force behavior changes by the Iranian regime, not to drive for regime change. But officials such as Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, advocated for regime change in Iran before they joined the administration. Also, the administration has been working closely with Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief regional rival, both of which seek a regime change in Tehran.

Details of the sanctions waivers were not made public, but Bloomberg News reported that India will be limited to 300,000 barrels of oil per day, down from 560,000 in the first half of 2018. China’s waiver permits 360,000 barrels per day, down from an average of 658,000 in early 2018. China and India are Iran’s largest oil purchasers and resisted the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.

Revenues from the oil sales will be held in accounts in the importing countries, and Iran can use the funds to purchase goods from those countries.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Tehran on November 19. The UK is among the countries seeking to soften the impact on Iran of renewed U.S. sanctions so that Tehran continues to comply with the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images )Although the revenue from oil sales is likely to be critical in influencing Iran’s decision whether to stay in the deal, the waivers issued for the nonproliferation projects were key for permitting the P4+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) to remain in compliance with the deal. The multilateral group committed to assist Iran in converting several nuclear facilities to reduce their proliferation threat, and failure to conclude these projects could allow Iran to argue that the P4+1 were violating the accord.

Additionally, after Trump repeatedly disparaged the value of the nuclear agreement and referred to it as the “worst deal ever,” Pompeo acknowledged on Nov. 5 that “allowing these activities to continue for the time being will improve ongoing oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program and make these facilities less susceptible to illicit and illegal nuclear uses.”

Waivers for the projects were necessary because the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) was one of the 700 entities sanctioned Nov. 5 by the United States.

As part of the nuclear deal, the AEOI was removed from the sanctions list to meet U.S. commitments under the accord. With the AEOI now subject to sanctions, foreign entities would be penalized for working with the organization on the specified projects.

The projects in question concern an unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak, the centrifuge facility at Fordow, and the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

China and the United States, which was succeeded by the UK under the agreement, had agreed to assist Iran in redesigning the unfinished Arak reactor to produce significantly less plutonium on an annual basis than is necessary for a nuclear weapon. If the reactor were completed as originally designed, it would have produced enough plutonium for about two nuclear weapons every year.

Iran removed and destroyed the original core of the Arak reactor in 2015. Work has commenced on designing the new core and on the contract for Chinese assistance on the project, but it does not appear that modifications at the Arak site have begun.

At Fordow, Iran agreed to forgo uranium enrichment at the facility for 15 years and convert it to an isotope research and production center. Russia is assisting in the facilities conversion.

The waivers also allow Russian work to continue at the Bushehr site. Russia provides nuclear fuel for the sole operating nuclear power plant at that site and is responsible for removing the spent fuel.

Russia has broken ground on two additional nuclear power reactors at Bushehr since the nuclear deal was implemented in 2016. Annex III of the accord, which deals with nuclear cooperation, raises the option of collaborating with Iran on light-water reactors, but does not require it.

It is unclear if additional Annex III projects, such as the Nuclear Safety Center that the European Union is interested in pursuing in Iran, will be permitted to go forward.

In addition to the reimposed sanctions, the Trump administration succeeded in pressuring SWIFT, the Brussels-based international financial messaging service, to cut off Iranian banks that were on the list of the 700 entities sanctioned Nov. 5 by the United States. SWIFT was not required to disconnect the Iranian banks, but made a “regrettable” decision to do so in order to maintain stability in the international banking system, the organization said.

A group of Republican senators said they would introduce legislation to sanction SWIFT if the body did not cut off the Iranian banks. Without SWIFT, it will be more difficult to facilitate financial transactions with Iran, even for permittable humanitarian trade such as medical supplies.

 

The United States abandoned the Iran nuclear deal, but Tehran continues to comply for now.

The IAEA Reports - Yet Again - Iran's Compliance with the JCPOA

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported, yet again, that Iran is fully implementing its nuclear commitments under the 2015 multilateral deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) . Despite biting U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking sector coming into effect Nov. 5, the agency’s most recent quarterly report , made public Nov. 22, demonstrates that Iran remains below the limits set on key nuclear activities and continues to cooperate with IAEA monitoring and verification activities. As with prior reports, the IAEA noted that inspectors have had...

Trump Sanctions Exempt Some Oil Sales and Nuclear Projects

The Trump administration ramped up its reckless and irresponsible “maximum pressure” approach to Iran Nov. 5 when it rolled out the second round of U.S. sanctions, re-imposed after President Donald Trump violated and withdrew from the nuclear deal in May. While the re-imposed sanctions have a biting effect on Iran’s economy and negatively impact the relief envisioned by the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Nov. 5 announcement could have been worse. The Trump administration did not realize its goal of pushing Iran’s oil exports to “zero,” or as close to...

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