By Arab News
By James Reinl
US President Donald Trump will extend sanctions relief granted to Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal, but will not issue any future waivers unless the accord is strengthened, White House officials said on Friday.
Trump, who has vowed to scrap the pact, will give the US Congress and European allies a 60-day window to reinforce the deal. Without improvements, the administration renewed a threat to withdraw from the agreement.
Officials called for curbs on Iran’s ballistic missile program, and safeguards that Tehran will stay at least one year away from possessing a nuclear weapon in perpetuity — overriding the so-called “sunset clauses” that see parts of the deal expire over the coming years.
“The president’s decision is to waive once more the nuclear sanctions that the terms of the JCPOA require the US to waive in order to remain in the deal,” a White House official said, using the formal acronym for the deal.
“But in his statement, the president will also make clear that this is the last such waiver that he will issue.”
At the same time as the renewed waiver was announced, the US Treasury slapped sanctions on 14 Iranian figures and companies, including the head of the country’s judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, linking him to the torture of political dissidents and the execution of juveniles.
Trump had faced a deadline on Friday to decide whether to waive the sanctions. A decision to withhold a waiver would have effectively ended the deal that limits Iran’s nuclear program.
Iranian activist Mohsen Sazegara, president of the Research Institute on Contemporary Iran, said he backed the nuclear accord, but praised Trump for restricting cash flows to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
“I hope they put pressure on the sources of money for Khamenei and the IRGC, because they use these monies to suppress the people of Iran,” Sazegara told Arab News, referencing the regime’s recent crackdown on protests across 80 cities.
“They pay sometimes $100-$150, almost half the minimum wage of a laborer’s monthly salary, to the thugs that they bring to the streets to beat people. If they don’t have money, they can’t continue to suppress people.”
Barbara Slavin, a former US State Department advisor on Iran, said Trump’s move likely reflected changes in Iran’s behavior: Fewer ballistic missile tests and changes in drug laws to reduce the number of death penalty cases.
Trump had come under heavy pressure from European allies to issue the sanctions waiver. “The administration has been swayed in part by the Europeans, who were unanimous in support of the agreement, and in telling the Trump administration not to scrap this deal while there’s no alternative,” Slavin told Arab News.
“I have very large doubts about the capacity of the Trump administration to negotiate any kind of replacement, and the Iranians have been quite firm that they won’t agree to renegotiate the agreement at this point.”
Sir Peter Westmacott, a former British ambassador to Turkey and the US, said Trump had likely given up on plans to substantially renegotiate the accord, and would shift to tackling Iranian activities beyond the scope of the deal.
“It’s about threatening language and some additional sanctions to try to bring into the field of constraint on Iranian policymaking those areas that were very specifically, and for good reason, excluded from the nuclear negotiation: Regional destabilization, human rights, and support for extremist groups of Shiite persuasion,” Sir Westmacott told Arab News.
“Is that really going to work? That’s another story, and of course the Iranians feel that some of the assertions that are made against them are simply not realistic.”
Trump has argued that former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, brokered a bad deal for the US in agreeing to the nuclear accord.
Hailed by Obama as key to stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb, the deal lifted economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program. It was also signed by China, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and the EU.
Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. It has said it will stick to the accord as long as the other signatories respect it, but will “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.
The US Congress requires the president to decide periodically whether to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal and issue a waiver to allow American sanctions to remain suspended.
Trump chose in October not to certify compliance, and warned he might ultimately terminate the deal.
He accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the accord, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Tehran is complying.
Hawkish US lawmakers have called for the re-imposition of the suspended sanctions and an end to the nuclear deal, while some liberal Democrats want to pass legislation that would make it harder for Trump to pull Washington out without congressional consent.
Trump’s team has been negotiating with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and others to try to change sanctions legislation so he does not face a deadline on whether to recertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal every 90 days.
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