WASHINGTON – The Trump administration said Wednesday it will continue granting nuclear sanctions relief to Iran, keeping the Obama-era nuclear deal intact for now. But the U.S. also announced new unrelated sanctions in a bid to show it wasn’t letting Tehran off the hook.
Under the 2015 deal, sanctions punishing Iran for its nuclear program were waived in exchange for Iran’s commitment to roll back the program. But continuing the sanctions relief requires the renewal of a six-month waiver. The most recent waiver, issued by former Secretary of State John Kerry in December, was set to expire this week.
Stuart Jones, the top U.S. diplomat in charge of the Middle East, said the U.S. is still forming a “comprehensive Iran policy,” alluding to President Donald Trump’s assertion that he may tear up the deal after he finishes reviewing it. In the meantime, Jones said, the U.S. will keep implementing the deal – including the sanctions relief.
“This ongoing review does not diminish the United States’ resolve to continue countering Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region, whether it be supporting the Assad regime, backing terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, or supporting violent militias that undermine governments in Iraq and Yemen,” Jones said. “And above all, the United States will never allow the regime in Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.”
On the campaign trail, Trump called the multi-nation deal “catastrophic,” “terrible,” “worst” and vowed to renegotiate it, without explaining how.
Aiming to undercut the perception that Trump is softening on Iran, the U.S. paired the announcement with new sanctions punishing Iran for its ballistic missiles program. Under the nuclear deal, the U.S. can continue sanctioning Iran for other, non-nuclear behaviour, although Tehran has threatened to pull out of the deal if the U.S. and other countries do so.
The new economic sanctions announced Wednesday target Iranian military officials, the State Department said, along with an Iranian entity and a network based in China that are accused of supplying Iran with materials for ballistic missiles. The State Department also released a new report criticizing Iran for human rights abuses, including the alleged mistreatment of prisoners.