By Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is expected to allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue their work at Iranian nuclear sites to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear weapons, four sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity and included one U.S. official, said a U.S. decision could come as early as Monday to renew waivers to sanctions that bar non-U.S. firms from dealing with Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.
Jewish News Syndicate, a news outlet predominantly focused on Israel and the Jewish world, first reported the United States was expected to renew the waivers, citing two sources familiar with the decision.
The move by the Trump administration, which in 2018 withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, will allow nonproliferation work to continue at the Arak heavy-water research reactor, the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Tehran Research Reactor and other nuclear initiatives.
The waivers would be a rare breather in a hardened U.S. policy toward Iran, one of the hardest-hit places in the Middle East by the global coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 2,460 people in the Islamic Republic and infected nearly 40,000.
Iranian authorities say U.S. sanctions are hampering their efforts to curb the outbreak and have urged other countries and the United Nations to call for the measures to be lifted. Washington rejects the assertion.
“Stop lying. … It’s not the sanctions. It’s the regime,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, said on Monday in a Twitter post that copied a tweet by Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, accusing Washington of waging an economic war on Iranians and engaging in “medical terror” amid the outbreak.
Washington has so far refused to lift any sanctions and has even ramped up its pressure campaign. Last week, it blacklisted five Iran- and Iraq-based companies and 15 individuals for supporting terrorist groups, its third round of sanctions on Iranian targets in two weeks.
Under the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions that had crippled its economy.
Tehran has long rejected Western assertions that it has sought to develop nuclear weapons.
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