Interviewer: the Trump administration has been sending mixed signals on Iran this week. It imposed sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister and is taking other steps to isolate the country. But the administration also quietly waved some sanctions to allow a key part of the Iran nuclear deal to continue. Joining us now to talk about why is NPR’s Michelle Kelleman. Michelle, I want to start with the sanctions that have been waved, what’s the significance of this?
Kelleman: So the administration says that it’s allowing some projects to continue. These are Russian, Chinese, European companies that are working on projects that are central to the nuclear deal, that’s the deal the Trump administration left which limits Iran’s nuclear activity and ensures that it would take at least a year for Iran to produce enough material for a bomb. The state department says that these are limited, non-proliferation activities that do not help Iran, instead they help restrict and constrain Iran’s nuclear program, so it’s things like redesigning a reactor, and support for a Bushier reactor so that Iran doesn’t need to enrich uranium for that.
Interviewer: But the Trump administration withdrew the US from this deal, which President Obama negotiated. So, in some sense, is this the administration acknowledging that it’s keeping some of it alive?
Kelleman: Well as some critics have said, it’s on life support. It may not be for long, listen to how national security advisor John Bolton described this decision in an interview with the Fox Business Network: “this is a short, 90 day extension, it’s intended, as I say, to be under constant observation and I just keep my eye on that spot.” And Bolton, as you know, is a hawk on Iran, he seemed to be indicating that he’d like to see the administration stop waving these sanctions next go around.
Interviewer: Is the administration, essentially, all on the same page?
Kelleman: It doesn’t look like it, I put that question to Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, he’s also a critic of the Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA: “I think there’s an ongoing internal struggle within the administration between those who want to retain the JCPOA as a framework for future nuclear negotiations with Iran and those who believe that the JCPOA is a fatally flawed agreement.” And he says this whole debate about waivers, the extension for 90 days, these waiver extensions, really captures that internal disagreement.
Interviewer: Here, Dubowitz is talking about the idea of negotiating a new deal. The administration says it wants to do that, but it’s also imposing sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister, what’s the disconnect here?
Kelleman: Well diplomats are sure trying to figure that out right now and trying to figure out what the US strategy is here. France, Britain, and Germany, all signatories of the Iran nuclear deal, say that the US should keep all diplomatic channels open. The UN Secretary General again today called for maximum restraint rather than maximum pressure, the policy that the Trump administration is pursuing. So far Iran’s foreign minister is brushing off the sanctions, saying that they won’t have any effect on him because he doesn’t have any assets here but it’s obviously going to be hard for US officials to deal with him if he continues to be the main diplomat from Iran.