Biden Administration Waives Sanctions on Iran’s Civilian Nuclear Program

The US State Department is waiving sanctions on Iran’s civilian nuclear program.

The waiver allows other countries and companies to participate in Iran’s civilian nuclear program without triggering US sanctions.

The State Department claims that this waiver is needed so that other countries can check the status of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles and proliferation activities or non-proliferation compliance.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez Lays Out Completely Where Things Are With Iran and a Proper Path Forward

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) laid out concerns with the indirect negotiations between the US and Iran.

“Today, many of the concerns I expressed about the JCPOA back in August of 2015 are coming back to haunt us in the year 2022,” he continued. “First and foremost, my overarching concern with the JCPOA was that it did not require the complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Instead, it mothballed that infrastructure for 10 years, making it all too easy for Iran to resume its illicit nuclear program at a moment of its choosing.”

He went on to say that Iran was “back in business at Fordow, spinning its most advanced centrifuges and enriching uranium to a higher level of purity than before it entered the JCPOA.”

“We are not dealing with a good faith actor here,” he said. “Iran’s consistent obfuscation, continual stalling, and outlandish demands have left us flying blind, especially when it comes to verifying that Iran is not engaged in activities related to the weaponization process – activities related to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device – activities which were explicitly banned in Section T of the JCPOA.”

More than 5,000 operational centrifuges and nearly 10,000 not yet operational – were to be merely disconnected. Instead of being completely removed, they were transferred to another hall at Natanz where they could be quickly reinstalled to enrich uranium, which is exactly what we have seen happen over the past year.

Today, Iran has more fissile materials – 2500kg, more advanced centrifuges, and a shorter breakout time – three to four weeks – than it had in 2015.

Back in 2015, I also expressed my grave concern that Iran only agreed to provisionally apply the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

The Additional Protocol is what allows the International Atomic Energy Administration to go beyond merely verifying that all declared nuclear material and facilities are being used for peaceful purposes and provides it with a verification mechanism to ensure states do not have undeclared nuclear material and facilities.

In February 2021, we saw the consequences of not insisting Iran permanently ratify the Additional Protocol.

Iran simply decided they were done with the Additional Protocol and refused to allow the IAEA to fully investigate locations where it found traces of uranium enrichment.

For decades now, Iran has pursued all three elements necessary to create and to deliver a nuclear weapon.

Producing nuclear material for a weapon. The fissile material. That is basically what we just talked about – being three to four weeks away.

The scientific research and development to build a nuclear warhead. That’s why we don’t know the full dimensions of what they were doing in terms of how advanced they got to the weaponization, the ability to have the nuclear warhead that makes the bomb go ‘boom.’

The ballistic missiles to deliver them. That, they already had.

And according to a report from David Albright and others at the Institute for Science and International Security, Iran could enrich enough uranium for a second weapon in less than four months.

‘Iran now has the largest known underground complexes in the Middle East housing nuclear and missile programs.’

‘Most of the tunnels are in the west, facing Israel, or on the southern coast, across from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf sheikhdoms. This fall, satellite imagery tracked new underground construction near Bakhtaran, the most extensive complex.’

‘The tunnels, carved out of rock, descend more than sixteen hundred feet underground. Some complexes reportedly stretch for miles. Iran calls them “missile cities.”’

‘An underground railroad ferries Emad missiles for rapid successive launches. Emads have a range of a thousand miles and can carry a conventional or a nuclear warhead.’

‘The Islamic Republic has thousands of ballistic missiles, according to U.S. intelligence assessments.’

They can reach – and we can see in this map, there are different missiles. How far can they reach? Furthest, 2000 kilometers.

‘They can reach as far as thirteen hundred miles in any direction—deep into India and China to the east; high into Russia to the north; to Greece and other parts of Europe to the west; and as far south as Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa,’ and dozens of countries in between.

‘About a hundred missiles could reach Israel.’

Tehran has shown no willingness to barter over its missiles as it has with its nuclear program.

‘It has provided the older “dumb” rocket technology to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The majority of the “precision project” kits crossing at Abu Kamal go to Lebanon, where Hezbollah upgrades its short-range rockets and missiles to hit more accurately and to penetrate more deeply inside Israel.’

‘Hezbollah is now estimated to have at least fourteen thousand missiles and more than a hundred thousand rockets, most courtesy of Iran.’

A senior Democrat is basically saying that the 2015 JCPOA (Iran nuclear agreement) was an ineffective and seriously flawed deal. The most critical parts needed for verification were not implemented.

I have a pretty good sense of what I think ‘longer’ and ‘stronger’ means. ‘Longer’ is obvious, more time. ‘Stronger’ – dealing with elements that had not been previously dealt with.

However, a year later, I have yet to hear any parameters [from Biden and State Department] of ‘longer’ or ‘stronger’ terms or whether that is even a feasible prospect.

And even when it seemed a constructive agreement might be possible last summer, upon taking office, the Raisi government abandoned all previous understandings and, as I mentioned, made absolutely clear that Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional proxy networks are ‘not negotiable.’

Moreover, at this point, we seriously have to ask what exactly are we trying to salvage?

Iran has moved so far out of compliance with so many of the terms of the JCPOA and of the terms of UNSCR 2231.

To quote again Rob Malley, the President’s Iran negotiator, trying to revive the deal at this point would be ‘tantamount to trying to revive a dead corpse.’

It’s time to start thinking out of the box and consider new strategies for rolling back Iran’s nuclear program and addressing its dangerous and nefarious activities. These new efforts should include creative diplomatic initiatives, stricter sanctions enforcement, and a steely determination from Congress to back up President Biden’s declaration that Iran will ‘never get a nuclear weapon on my watch.’

“One critical first step is vigorously enforcing the sanctions we have in place,” said Menendez. “Of course, we must be realistic here. Former president Trump’s disastrous withdrawal from the JCPOA hampered our ability on the sanctions front.”

He said the Biden administration “must rigorously enforce our sanctions, including targeting Chinese entities in a way that will impose a serious cost,” and to use sanctions “to crush the illicit, underground economy of Iranian oil shipments throughout the world.

We must use our sanctions to crush the illicit, underground economy of Iranian oil shipments throughout the world.

The best guarantee of a sustainable, diplomatic agreement with Iran and the international community is to build one that garners bipartisan political support.

One such idea that I have been working on with Senator Graham is a regional nuclear fuel bank that would provide Iran with access to fuel on the condition it forgoes all domestic uranium enrichment and reprocessing.

This idea may sound lofty, but it’s worth noting that the IAEA already runs a nuclear fuel bank that provides access to members in the event of a disruption to their existing fuel arrangements.

In the future, such a fuel bank – a regional fuel bank – could even be expanded to guarantee that any Arabian Gulf state, or further beyond in the Middle East for that matter, can peacefully fuel its commercial nuclear reactors through the IAEA fuel bank. That means, you don’t enrich, but you get the fuel necessary if you want domestic energy consumption.

As we look to a new approach, I also believe we should revisit a number of the proposals I laid out in 2015.

First, we should seek the immediate ratification by Iran of the Additional Protocol to ensure that we have a permanent international agreement with Iran for access to suspect sites.

Second, we need a ban on centrifuge R&D for the duration of such an agreement – because it is that advanced R&D that has allowed Iran to be four weeks away from crossing the nuclear threshold so that Iran cannot have the capacity to quickly breakout. Just as the UN Security Council Resolution and sanctions snapback is off the table.

Third, Iran should close the Fordow enrichment facility. After all, the sole purpose of Fordow was to harden Iran’s nuclear program to a military attack. But if Iran has nothing to hide, and it is all for peaceful purposes, why do you put it deep underneath a mountain?

Fourth, the world needs full resolution of the ‘possible military dimensions’ of Iran’s program.

Iran and the IAEA must resolve the issue before permanent sanctions relief takes place. Should Iran fail to cooperate with a comprehensive review into the military dimensions of their program, then automatic sanctions must snapback.

Fifth, rather than extend the duration of the agreement, we need a permanent agreement. One of the single most concerning elements of the original deal is its 10-15 year sunset of restrictions on Iran’s program, with off ramps starting after year 8. Think about it. 2015 to 2022. Seven years. Shows you how quickly Iran can be proceeding in a way we do not want them to be able to proceed.

And sixth, we need agreement about what penalties will be collectively imposed by the P5+1 for Iranian violations, both small and midsized, as well as a clear statement as to the so-called grandfather clause in paragraph 37 of the JCPOA, to ensure that the U.S. position about not shielding contracts entered into legally upon re-imposition of sanctions is shared by our allies. Everybody should be in the same boat.

We cannot allow Iran to threaten us into a bad deal or an interim agreement that allows it to continue to build its nuclear capacity.

Nor should we cling to the scope of an agreement that it seems some are holding on to for nostalgia’s sake.

We need an agreement that will create a free and prosperous but nuclear weapon free Iran.