Washington: The Trump administration took a key step on Wednesday toward preserving the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, coupling the move with fresh ballistic missile sanctions to show it isn’t going light on the Islamic republic.
The State Department said Iran would continue to enjoy relief from decades-old economic measures punishing Tehran for its nuclear program. Under the 2015 nuclear agreement, the US lifted those sanctions. But Washington must issue periodical waivers to keep the penalties from snapping back into place and the most recent one was set to expire this week.
Donald Trump as a candidate vowed to renegotiate or tear up the nuclear deal. As president, he has altered his position, insisting he is still studying the accord and hasn’t made a final decision. The move to extend the sanctions relief in the meantime was another indication Trump may be laying the groundwork to let the deal stand.
Still, the US paired the announcement with new, unrelated sanctions that go after Iran for a ballistic missiles program that Washington fears could target American interests in the Middle East or key allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Wednesday’s sanctions target Iranian military officials along with an Iranian company and China-based network accused of supplying Iran with materials for ballistic missiles, the State Department said.
The dual moves — ensuring old sanctions on Iran don’t return while imposing new ones — appeared aimed at undercutting the impression that Trump’s stance on Iran has softened. Since taking office, Trump’s administration has sanctioned hundreds in Iran and in Syria — an Iranian ally — as part of a campaign to increase pressure on Iran even as it reviews the nuclear deal.
Stuart Jones, the top US diplomat in charge of the Middle East, said the US is still forming a “comprehensive Iran policy” that addresses Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government and militant groups in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
“This ongoing review does not diminish the United States’ resolve to continue countering Iran’s destabilising activity in the region, whether it be supporting the Assad regime, backing terrorist organisations 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.”
In a similar move last month, Trump’s administration certified to Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal — a requirement for Iran to keep receiving the economic benefits of the deal. At the same time, Trump dispatched Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to issue a scathing critique of Iran in which he also cast doubt that the nuclear deal would achieve its objective of keeping Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
Trump also announced late Wednesday that the US didn’t intend to limit Iran’s ability to sell oil. In a memo to Tillerson and the Secretaries of Energy and Treasury, Trump said there’s enough oil being produced currently by other countries that Iran’s output could be reduced without hurting global supplies. But he said that given US commitments under the nuclear deal, “the United States is not pursuing efforts to reduce Iran’s sales of crude oil at this time.”
“I will continue to monitor this situation closely,” Trump added.