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US hits Iran with new sanctions, keeps some waivers in place

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration said Thursday that it will continue — at least for now — its policy of not sanctioning foreign companies that work with Iran's civilian nuclear program. But to signal that its pressure campaign against Tehran continues, Treasury announced new sanctions targeting the head of Iran's nuclear program and the agency he directs.

Brian Hook, U.S. envoy to Iran, said the U.S. would renew for 60 days sanctions waivers that permit Russian, European and Chinese companies to continue to work on Iran's civilian nuclear facilities without running afoul of U.S. sanctions. The waivers are among the last remaining components of the 2015 nuclear deal that President Donald Trump pulled out of in 2018.

Hook told reporters at the State Department that although the waivers will remain in place, the U.S. would closely monitor all aspects of Iran's nuclear program and said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo can “end these projects as developments warrant.”

Iran hard-liners in Congress, including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, have argued that the waivers should be revoked because they give Iran access to technology that could be used for weapons.

Those who supported the U.S. participation in the nuclear deal say the waivers give international experts a valuable window into Iran's atomic program that might otherwise not exist. They also say some of the work, particularly on nuclear isotopes that can be used in medicine at the Tehran reactor, is humanitarian in nature.

New sanctions against Iran that the U.S. announced on Thursday target Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and its director, Ali Akbar Salehi. The sanctions freeze any assets that Salehi has within U.S. jurisdiction.

The new sanctions come amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. Since then, Iran has begun breaking terms of the deal, which limited its enrichment of uranium.

“The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has played a big role in Iran breaching its key nuclear commitments. It has exceeded the limits on its uranium stockpile and enrichment levels," Hook said, adding that Salehi personally inaugurated the installation of new advanced centrifuges to expand Iran's uranium enrichment capacity.

Separately, Treasury announced that a new financial channel for humanitarian goods has been created with Switzerland to benefit medical patients in Iran. Hook said four shipments of cancer and transplant drugs have already been delivered to Iran.

“Iranian cancer and transplant patients are receiving treatments through this channel, which is subject to strict due diligence measures to avoid misuse by the Iranian regime,” Treasury said in a statement.

Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission, said the new financial channel disputes U.S. claims that medicine is exempt from U.S. sanctions. “If medicine and food were — as the U.S. always stated in response to Iran's complaints — ‘exempt,’ then why require this special channel?” he asked.

He said U.S. sanctions on Iran amount to “economic terrorism” against the Iranian people.

Associated Press reporter Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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