The US State Department is waiving sanctions on Iran's civilian nuclear programme in a technical step necessary to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, a senior official said on Friday.
The resumption of the waiver, ended by the Donald Trump administration in 2020, “would be essential to ensuring Iran's swift compliance” if a new deal on controlling Tehran's nuclear programme can be reached in talks in Vienna, the State Department official said.
The waiver allows other countries and companies to participate in Iran's civilian nuclear programme without triggering US sanctions on them, in the name of promoting safety and non-proliferation.
Iran's civilian nuclear programme includes the country's increasing stockpiles of enriched uranium.
“Absent this sanctions waiver, detailed technical discussions with third parties regarding disposition of stockpiles and other activities of non-proliferation value cannot take place,” the official said, insisting on anonymity.
A State Department report to Congress says that restoring the waiver "is designed to facilitate discussions that would help to close a deal on a mutual return to full implementation" of the nuclear deal, according to a copy seen by Reuters.
"It is also designed to serve US non-proliferation and nuclear safety interests and constrain Iran's nuclear activities. It is being issued as a matter of policy discretion with these objectives in mind, and not pursuant to a commitment or as part of a quid pro quo," the report said.
The waiver came as talks to restore the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, which Mr Trump unilaterally withdrew from in 2018, were at an advanced stage.
US President Joe Biden moved quickly to return to the agreement after he entered office a year ago, but Iran in the meantime has moved increasingly closer to producing enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
The Vienna talks, which include Iran, the US, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, are at a key stage where the parties have to make “critical political decisions”, a senior US official said last week.
“The technical discussions facilitated by the waiver are necessary in the final weeks of JCPOA talks,” the State Department official said.
But even if a final deal is not reached, the official said, the waiver is important to holding discussions on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, which is of interest to the entire world.
The official said that the move was not “part of a quid pro quo”, as the partners in the JCPOA talks await Iran's response on key issues.
But the senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the talks last week, said time was running out and urged Tehran to make important decisions.
“I think we're at the point where some of the most critical political decisions have to be made by all sides,” the official said.
The official proposed direct talks between Washington and Tehran to focus on the most difficult issues separating the sides.
“If our goal is to reach an understanding quickly … the optimal way to do that, in any negotiation, is for the parties that have the most at stake to meet directly,” the official said.