WASHINGTON -- The United States has extended nuclear-cooperation waivers on Iran's civil nuclear program to “help preserve oversight” of the sector, but at the same time imposed new sanctions on the country's construction industry because of its links to the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on October 31 that retaining the waivers will also “reduce proliferation risks, constrain Iran’s ability to shorten its ‘breakout time’ to a nuclear weapon, and prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes.”
The waivers were among of the final remaining elements of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal signed by Tehran and six world powers.
U.S. President Donald Trump in May 2018 pulled out of the nuclear deal and began reimposing sanctions that had been lifted in the deal in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program.
The waivers were extended for another 90 days to allow European, Russian, and Chinese companies to continue to work with civilian nuclear facilities in Iran without facing U.S. penalties.
Critics of the 2015 nuclear deal, struck during the administration of President Barack Obama, have long pushed to have the waivers revoked, saying they give Iran access to technology that could be used for weapons.
"This is disappointing and another lost opportunity to tear up the catastrophic Obama-Iran nuclear deal once and for all," Senators Ted Cruz (Republican-Texas) and Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) said in a statement. "President Trump should immediately order his administration to stop issuing civil nuclear waivers."
Supporters of the deal say the waivers provide international experts a window into Iran's atomic program that might otherwise not exist.
Meanwhile, Ortagus said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set sanctions on Iran's construction sector, which was deemed to be under the control "directly or indirectly" by the IRGC, which Washington in April designated as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).
She said the United States will have additional authority to “prevent Iran from acquiring strategic materials for the IRGC, its construction sector, and its proliferation programs."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the new sanctions imposed on Tehran showed the failure of U.S. policies, and called on the United States to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
"Rather than dig itself deeper, US should abandon failed policies & return to #JCPOA [the 2015 nuclear deal]," Zarif tweeted on November 1.
"US can sanction every man, woman & child but Iranians will never submit to bullying," he also wrote.
As a result of the new U.S. sanctions, "the sale, supply, or transfer to or from Iran of raw and semifinished metals, graphite, coal, and software for integrating industrial purposes will be sanctionable if those materials are to be used in connection with the Iranian construction sector," the State Department said.
It said Pompeo had also determined that "certain types of those materials are used in connection with the nuclear, military, or ballistic missile programs of Iran.... As a result of this determination, the sale, supply, or transfer to or from Iran of those materials will be sanctionable (regardless of end-use or end-user)."
A fact sheet lists the materials as: stainless steel 304L tubes; MN40 manganese brazing foil; MN70 manganese brazing foil; and stainless steel CrNi60WTi ESR+VAR (chromium, nickel, 60 percent tungsten, titanium, electro-slag remelting, vacuum arc remelting).
"With these actions, the United States is continuing a campaign to maximize economic pressure on the Iranian regime. This campaign aims to fundamentally change the Iranian regime’s behavior, block all paths to a nuclear weapon, and end Iran’s state-sponsorship of terrorism and regional malign activity," it said.