US restores several sanctions waivers related to Iran’s civilian nuclear activities

US President Joe Biden has just made a surprise move, restoring several sanctions waivers related to Iran’s civilian nuclear activities. Not only facilitating negotiations on Iran’s nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which is in the sprint stage, Washington’s recent decision helped ease tensions in the US-Iran relations.

US President Joe Biden (Photo: AP)
US President Joe Biden (Photo: AP)

The waivers have allowed foreign companies, specifically those from Russia, China and Europe, to participate in civil cooperation projects, at certain Iranian facilities, such as the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, the Tehran Research Reactor and the Arak Heavy Water Reactor Facility.

Projects must ensure that Iranian facilities are not used for the development of nuclear weapons. Some of the work that is exempt from sanctions, include redesigning a heavy-water reactor, preparing and modifying the Fordow facility for isotope production, or training activities and providing services related to nuclear power plants.

The above decision was confirmed by the US administration to promote negotiations in Vienna (Austria) to save the JCPOA. In a report submitted to Congress on February 4, the US State Department stated that the sanctions waiver, was intended to facilitate negotiations to reach an agreement on restoring the parties' full commitments, under the JCPOA, placing a foundation for Iran to return to compliance with its commitments in this historic agreement.

However, Washington also insisted that sanctions relief served only US interests and curbed Iran's nuclear activities. The waiver decision should not be construed as a commitment or part of the US exchange regime, in response to Iran's request.

Under the historic nuclear agreement Iran signed with the P5+1 powers in 2015, Iran agreed to closely monitor its nuclear energy programme and said it did not seek to develop nuclear weapons. In return, Iran got sanction relief from the US and the UN.

However, citing the lack of strength of the agreement, in 2018 the previous Biden administration withdrew from the JCPOA and unilaterally re-imposed sanctions against Iran. In 2020, Washington continued to withdraw the decision to exempt sanctions, related to Iran's nuclear activities, in a campaign of maximum pressure on Tehran.

Immediately upon taking office in January 2021, President Biden stated that he was ready to return to the JCPOA, if Iran complied with the agreement. The US government also participated in indirect negotiations with Tehran, supporting the JCPOA negotiations taking place in Vienna.

Since April 2021, the US and Iran have conducted eight rounds of indirect negotiations. Currently, the 9th round of negotiations has not been scheduled, but it is likely to resume next week.

Iran has always called on the US to show goodwill, starting with the lifting of sanctions. During his latest remarks last week, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, stated that the revival of the JCPOA can only be realised, if the US lifts sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

In a gesture of goodwill, Iran announced that it was not opposed to direct negotiations with the US, but must be subjected to some conditions. The Iranian Foreign Ministry said that the US side sent a message, requesting direct negotiations with Iran. Tehran saw this as an opportunity, but it must be conducted in the spirit of dialogue. Last week, the US confirmed it was preparing to hold direct talks with Iran, after Tehran said it will consider such an option.

Both Iran and the US affirmed their readiness to return to JCPOA compliance, but conflicting interests and lack of confidence in actual steps, have pushed the two sides into a protracted tug-of-war. President Biden's surprise moves to reverse the decision of his predecessor was welcomed, at least reducing the atmosphere of confrontation, ahead of a new round of negotiations between the two countries.

Translated by NDO