Forget oil sanctions, end of nuclear cooperation waivers could quietly kill Iran deal

Al-Monitor | : Much of the current debate on the Donald Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran concerns its decision not to extend waivers allowing eight nations – including China, India and Turkey – to import limited amounts of Iranian oil. However, it is the possible revocation of waivers that allow the remaining parties to the deal signed in 2015 to engage in civil nuclear cooperation with Iran — with the aim of reducing the proliferation risks of the Iranian nuclear program — that poses the greatest threat to the future of the nuclear deal.

US national security adviser John Bolton and a group of hawkish lawmakers in Congress are agitating for the Trump administration to cancel three key waivers issued in November 2018, when the United States reimposed secondary sanctions on Iran. These waivers pertain to technical work on Iran’s civil nuclear program required under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and cover activities at three sites: Fordow, Arak and Bushehr. The aim of this cooperation is to jointly work toward significantly reducing proliferation risks.

In Arak, a waiver is necessary to enable Iran to redesign its heavy water research reactor in order to “support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production for medical and industrial purposes.” The proposed redesigned Arak reactor would vastly cut the potential for a plutonium path to the bomb. The underground uranium enrichment facility of Fordow is being converted into a “nuclear, physics and technology center.” The aim here is to keep uranium enrichment literally closer to the surface and thus more vulnerable in case of an Iranian dash for the bomb. At Bushehr, the site of a Russian-built nuclear power plant that became operational in 2011, the waiver is necessary to allow Iran to continue to purchase the fuel it needs to run the reactor and produce electricity.

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