Published: Thu, May 18, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

United States extends Iran nuclear sanctions relief

Trump threatened to tear up the nuclear deal during his campaign and has launched a review of its terms, but until then he is required to decide on renewing sanctions relief at regular intervals.

Aiming to undercut the perception that Mr Trump is softening on Iran, the U.S. paired the announcement with new sanctions punishing Iran for its ballistic missiles programme.Under the nuclear deal, the United States can continue sanctioning Iran for other, non-nuclear behaviour, although Tehran has threatened to pull out of the deal if the USA and other countries do so.

The United States brands Iran as a "state sponsor of terrorism" and says Tehran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war in Syria, Houthi rebels in Yemen's civil war and the Hezbollah Shi'ite political party and militia in Lebanon, have helped to destabilize the Middle East.

Still, the USA paired the announcement with new, unrelated sanctions that go after Iran for a ballistic missiles program that Washington fears could target American interests in the Middle East or key allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The new economic sanctions announced on Wednesday target Iranian military officials, the state department said, along with an Iranian entity and a network based in China that are accused of supplying Iran with materials for ballistic missiles.

The U.S. State Department said Wednesday that Trump's administration is re-evaluating its relationship with Iran, including whether to remain in the nuclear deal, but is meanwhile taking action against Iran over human rights abuses, its missile programme and other areas of concern.

The decision on the sanctions waiver represents a major early policy choice on the nuclear deal for the Trump administration, which has said that it is engaged in a wider policy review on how to deal with Iran.

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The Trump administration is now in the process of reviewing USA policy toward Iran.

The dual moves - ensuring old sanctions on Iran don't return while imposing new ones - appeared aimed at undercutting the impression that Trump's stance on Iran has softened since he took office.

While the USA says it will continue waiving these sanctions, it is ratcheting up other sanctions related to human rights abuses and the country's ballistic missile program.

The top US diplomat for the Middle East, Stuart Jones, said Iran's missile program is in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The deal doesn't prohibit the US or other countries from imposing new sanctions on Iran for its missile program, terrorism or other reasons, although Tehran has threatened to pull out of the deal if the USA and other countries do so. It also has clinched bigger deals with trans-Atlantic rivals Airbus and Boeing.

The announcements and the report come just days before Iran holds presidential elections that pit President Hassan Rouhani against several conservative opponents. It also comes ahead of Trump's five-day trip to the region.

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