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U.S. Extends Waivers On Iranian Civilian Nuclear Plants, But Hits Uranium Exports

Washington said it is extending waivers on countries assisting with Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant.

WASHINGTON -- The United States says it has extended five sanction waivers that will allow Russian, China, and European countries to continue to work with Iran’s civilian nuclear program.

At the same time, the State Department said on May 3 that it was ending two waivers related to Iranian exports of enriched uranium in what it called "the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime." All of the waivers were due to expire on May 4.

The United States under President Donald Trump has ramped up pressure on the Iranian government as it seeks to end what it calls Tehran's "malign" activities in the region. Washington has already imposed sanctions on Iran's oil industry in an effort to bring its crude exports down to zero.

The move to extend the five nuclear waivers will likely be welcomed by the countries still working with Iran and those that opposed Washington's unilateral decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal that provided Tehran with sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

The extended waivers concern separate elements of Tehran's civilian nuclear program. The 45- to 90-day extensions were shorter than the 180 days granted previously but can be renewed.

They allow for work to continue at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Fordow enrichment facility, the Arak nuclear complex, and the Tehran Research Reactor, the State Department said.

However, it warned that sanctions could be imposed on countries if they provide assistance to expand the Bushehr facility beyond the one existing reactor.

Under the terms of the 2015 deal, Russia, China, and several European nations help maintain the sites and are assisting in converting equipment there for civilian use.

One of the two waivers not renewed had allowed Iran to store excess heavy water produced in the uranium-enrichment process in Oman. The other allowed Iran to swap enriched uranium for raw yellowcake uranium powder with Russia.

Those restrictions are aimed at forcing Iran to stop enriching uranium. Under the 2015 deal, Iran is allowed to keep 300 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 3.67 percent -- far below the level needed to build nuclear weapons

Iran was to sell off any enriched uranium above the limit on international markets in return for natural uranium.

Now, however, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would start to impose sanctions on anyone involved in the trade of natural for enriched uranium -- as well as in the storage of Iranian heavy water that was in excess of limits.

"The Trump administration continues to hold the Iranian regime accountable for activities that threaten the region's stability and harm the Iranian people. This includes denying Iran any pathway to a nuclear weapon," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

In withdrawing from the nuclear pact, Trump said Tehran was not living up to the "spirit" of the accord because of its support of militants in the region and for continuing to test nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Tehran denies the charges.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, AFP, AP, and dpa
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