Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday announced he is “ending the sanctions waiver for JCPOA-related projects in Iran, effective in 60 days.” JCPOA stands for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the nuclear deal struck by former President Barack Obama.
President Donald Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the agreement in May 2018, fulfilling one of his 2016 campaign promises.
“This was a horrible one-sided deal that should never, ever have been made. It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will,” he said when announcing his final decision to withdraw.
Pompeo also cited Iranian misbehavior when declaring the end of the last sanctions waivers on Wednesday.
“The Iranian regime has continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities. These escalatory actions are unacceptable and I cannot justify renewing the waiver for these JCPOA-related activities as a result,” Pompeo said.
“The regime’s nuclear extortion will lead to increased pressure on Iran and further isolate the regime from the international community,” he cautioned. “Moreover, Iran’s nuclear personnel need to make a choice – work for Iranian proliferation organizations and risk being sanctioned or put their skills to work for the Iranian people in pursuits outside of the proliferation realm.”
Pompeo further announced additional sanctions designations against two Iranians, Majid Agha’i and Amjad Sazgar, for engaging in activities that contributed to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” He described their positions within the Iranian regime and their offenses:
Sazgar is the Managing Director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran entity responsible for the industrial-scale production of uranium enrichment gas centrifuge machines. In 2019, Sazgar managed and supervised the installation of centrifuges at Iran’s Fordow Fuel Enrichment plant. Through these activities, Sazgar has contributed to Iran’s continued provocative and destabilizing expansion of its nuclear capabilities. Agha’i has also been centrally involved in Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuge operations, and is a manager in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran subsidiary responsible for research and development of advanced centrifuges.
Pompeo referenced Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s most recent outburst of belligerent anti-Semitic and eliminationist rhetoric to stress that Iran’s evil regime cannot be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction.
“A regime that just days ago invoked ‘The Final Solution’ and which regularly threatens to wipe Israel off the map must never obtain a nuclear weapon,” he said. “The United States welcomes the international community’s widespread condemnation of the regime’s recent anti-Semitic statements. The regime’s vile rhetoric only strengthens the international community’s resolve to counter its threats.”
At a State Department press briefing on Wednesday, Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said the terminated waivers included “the Arak reactor conversion, the provision of enriched uranium for the Tehran research reactor, and the export of Iran-spent and scrap research reactor fuel.”
Hook added that Pompeo extended the waiver for the Bushehr nuclear power plant for 90 days since international assistance for that project predated the JCPOA.
“The Secretary retains the right to revoke or modify this waiver at any time,” he noted.
Hook said the termination of these waivers was an appropriate response to Iran’s belligerent rhetoric and behavior and were part of President Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” against the regime in Tehran:
We are taking these actions now because the regime continues to use its nuclear program to extort the international community. The Iranian regime’s threats are designed to intimidate nations into accepting Iran’s usual violent behavior for fear of something worse. We refuse to play by Iran’s rules.
President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign has constrained and countered Iran in unprecedented ways. We have deprived the clerical rulers of vast amounts of revenue. We have disrupted their financial networks and their sectarian networks. Because of our pressure, Iran’s leaders are facing a decision: either negotiate with us or manage economic collapse.
Iran’s economy is especially grim because the autocratic rule of the ayatollahs has proven to be an economic catastrophe for the Iranian people. Exports are down, the economy is in deep contraction, the budget – the government budget is facing unprecedented pressures it cannot fix, and access to foreign reserves is minimal. The United States will continue its successful strategy of maximum economic pressure and diplomatic isolation.
Like Pompeo, Hook referenced Ayatollah Khamenei’s invocation of “The Final Solution,” Nazi German’s plan to exterminate the Jews.
“His regime was condemned widely, as it should be, but it underscores the very real threat this regime poses. No country that threatens to annihilate Israel or any nation should be allowed the means to do so,” Hook said.
Assistant Secretary Christopher Ford noted at the briefing that sanctions waivers have “gradually been taken down one by one, with this as the latest step in that progression.” He made an assessment that Iran probably lacks the resources and expertise to resume nuclear weapons development in retaliation for the waivers ending, suggesting that Tehran’s previous efforts had some foreign assistance that will no longer be readily available to them, and predicting the Iranian regime will be reluctant to take depts that would “antagonize the remaining participants in the JCPOA.”
Hook cited threats of a “crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended” by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani – ostensibly the “moderate” leader of Iran, compared to the “hardliner” Khamenei – as evidence the JCPOA “has failed to moderate the regime.” Ford asserted the economic damage to Iran from President Trump’s pressure campaign has done far more to moderate the regime in practice, if not in its desires, than the JCPOA did.
“We believe the [United Nations] Security Council has to reject Rouhani’s extortion,” Hook said of the arms embargo.
Fox News on Thursday quoted some non-proliferation analysts who worried that ending the waivers will make Iran feel justified in resuming prohibited nuclear activities, while Radio Farda cited supporters of the nuclear deal who said some of the work facilitated by the waivers is “humanitarian in nature.” Critics of the JCPOA have long maintained that work performed on nuclear medicine, for example, uses equipment and produces materials that could be repurposed for weapons research.
Radio Farda noted that Pompeo wanted to terminate the waivers in March, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin favored extending them for one more 60-day period, arguing that it would be politically difficult to end the waivers “at a time when the administration is being criticized for refusing to ease sanctions to deal with the [coronavirus] outbreak.” Iran constantly complains that U.S. sanctions hindered its response to the pandemic.