United States Ends Iranian Sanctions Waivers; Met With International Criticism, Domestic Support

On the 30th of May, a joint statement was released by France, Britain, and Germany which condemned the United States’ decision to end three of four Iranian sanctions waivers. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that ongoing nuclear proliferation efforts by Iran provided justification for the American decision. The decision, met with international criticism, saw praise from conservatives in the United States.

In a joint statement on Saturday, the three European nations expressed their regret. “These projects, endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, serve the non-proliferation interests of all and provide the international community with assurances of the exclusively peaceful and safe nature of Iranian nuclear activities.” However, the actions were met with support in the United States. Republican senator Ted Cruz wrote in a tweet on Wednesday, “Today the administration took a critical step toward tearing up the catastrophic Obama-Iran nuclear deal once and for all.” In a statement linked to the tweet, Cruz went on to add, “For too long the Ayatollah has exploited these civil nuclear waivers to build up Iran’s nuclear programs, with the intention of eventually developing nuclear weapons to inflict destruction on America and our allies.” It is worth noting that here Cruz and other Republican allies are also calling for the United States to withdraw itself from Cold War-era nuclear arms deals in order to build up the American nuclear arsenal.

The sanctions waivers had allowed for international groups to work with the Iranian nuclear sector without facing U.S. sanctions. The exact waivers which were scrapped had allowed the following:

  1. They had allowed Russian, Chinese, and European companies to work on converting Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor.
  2. They had allowed for enriched uranium to be provided for a Tehran-based research reactor.
  3. They had allowed for the transfer of spent fuel abroad.

The fourth sanctions waiver, which concerns work on the Bushehr nuclear power station, is the only one to have been extended. With ongoing tensions between the United States and Iran unlikely to cease, however, this sanctions waiver may also be on borrowed time.

Trump and his supporters long-called for the ending of the “terrible” Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The purpose of the JCPOA, as well as the ongoing international dialogue surrounding it, is to allow for the development of a peaceful nuclear energy program in Iran. More than anything, the deal was an explicit attempt to prevent nuclear proliferation. At the time of signing, it seemed that it opened a way forward for peaceful cooperation between Iran and the Western world – it seemed particularly beneficial for the relationship with the United States, which has a fractious history with Iran. However, the actions of the Trump administration, and the response from Iran, have only served to heighten tensions and harm the pathway to lasting peace. The Trump administration officially withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018, and imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran. This occurred despite consistent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certification that Iran had been following the terms of the deal, with no indications whatsoever that the nation had been attempting nuclear weapons development.

The latest actions appear to be the continuation of a Trump administration trend. These actions are dangerous, particularly because it reinforces the perception of Iranian political figures that the United States is an enemy. The purpose the JCPOA and deals like it is to prevent nuclear proliferation while increasing global cooperation. To succeed, these deals need support from the global superpower that is the United States, not belligerence and frustration. One only needs to look at North Korea to see that the imposition of sanctions and ongoing hostility does not succeed.