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Pompeo testifies on Iran in February. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The U.S. is ending waivers that had allowed foreign companies to work at Iran's civilian nuclear facilities, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday.

Why it matters: This will eliminate most elements of U.S. sanctions relief still in place two years after President Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Pompeo said "continued nuclear escalation" made the move necessary, but critics warn it will encourage further Iranian enrichment.

The big picture: Since withdrawing from the Obama-era deal, President Trump has piled sanctions and threats on Tehran over its nuclear program and activities around the region.

  • Iran has responded by creeping beyond the limits of the deal, which the other signatories — particularly France, Germany and the U.K. — have attempted to salvage.
  • The U.S. waivers allow Russian, European and Chinese companies to work at Iran's civilian nuclear sites without facing American sanctions.
  • Those waivers will be eliminated except in the case of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station, which had received international support prior to the nuclear deal, per the Washington Post. That extension is for 90 days.

Between the lines: Critics of the move say it will reduce U.S. visibility into Iran's nuclear program and offer Iran a rationale to increase uranium enrichment from under 5% up to 20%.

  • There was debate about timing within the administration, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin previously arguing the administration was "under fire" for tightening sanctions during a pandemic and should hold off, per the Post.
  • Rob Malley, CEO of the International Crisis Group, and other former Obama administration officials have argued that the move appears motivated by a desire to unwind the 2015 nuclear deal, rather than further U.S. national security.

The other side: Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies says the messages the administration is sending are "that pressure will escalate over the summer, that Iran’s entire nuclear program is illegitimate, and that it is trying to reset the pieces on the chessboard over what, if anything, can be permitted in a final deal."

Go deeper

Aug 26, 2020 - World

U.S. presses Israel to cool ties with China over support for Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Aug. 24. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Jerusalem on Monday to further cool relations with China and limit Chinese investments in Israel over the new strategic partnership agreement China signed with Iran, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

Why it matters: The Trump administration has been lobbying Israel for two years to scale back its relations with China. Until now, those efforts have had very little success.

In photos: Protesters rally for George Floyd ahead of Derek Chauvin's trial

Chaz Neal, a Redwing community activist, outside the Minnesota Governor's residence during a protest in support of George Floyd in St.Paul, Minnesota, on March 6. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of protesters were rallying outside the Minnesota governor's mansion in St Paul Saturday, urging justice for George Floyd ahead of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's trial over the 46-year-old's death.

The big picture: Chauvin faces charges for second-degree murder and manslaughter over Floyd's death last May, which ignited massive nationwide and global protests against racism and for police reform. His trial is due to start this Monday, with jury selection procedures.