US extends sanctions relief under Iran nuclear deal

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Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015, agreeing to significantly curb operations at its nuclear facilities in return for the lifting of global oil and banking sanctions.

The timing is meant to show a hard stance on Iran - even as the administration continues to comply with the Iran nuclear deal. Under the 2015 nuclear agreement, the US lifted those sanctions. However since assuming the presidency, he has tempered his position, suggesting that he is studying the accord with an eye for its details, and that he is yet to reach a final position on its contents.

But it balanced the decision with new measures against Iranian defence officials and a Chinese business linked to Iran's ballistic missile programme.

In a statement, the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said it has "designated two senior Iranian defense officials, including a defense official who facilitated the sale of explosives and provided other support to Syria and the director of the organization responsible for Iran's solid-fueled ballistic missile program" as targets for sanctions.

But Washington's top diplomat for the Middle East, Stuart Jones, said in a statement that the department had told Congress that "the United States continues to waive sanctions" that were lifted under the Iran deal.

Washington has labeled Iran as a "state sponsor of terrorism" and accuses it of sowing instability in the region through its backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and Houthi rebels in Yemen's civil war.

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Wendy Sherman, who served as undersecretary of State for political affairs from 2011 to 2015, said that the nuclear deal allows the U.S.to use "all options" if Iran were to backpedal on the deal.

Former President Barack Obama's administration renewed a series of waivers to US sanctions on Iran in mid-January 2017, just before he left office.

On Wednesday, Iranian state media outlets said four passenger airplanes were being delivered as the first installment of a deal with French-Italian manufacturer ATR that was finalized after the nuclear agreement. Iran is buying 20 of the ATR 72-600 planes. It also pledged to continue reviewing the nuclear deal with withdrawal still possible.

"Iran condemns the U.S. administration's ill will in its effort to reduce the positive results of the country's implementation of JCPOA (nuclear deal) commitments by adding individuals to the list of unilateral and illegal extraterritorial sanctions", Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on his Telegram messaging channel.

Iran criticised new United States sanctions on its missile programme on Thursday (May 18), saying they would undermine a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Simultaneously, the State Department released a congressionally mandated semi-annual report on human rights abuses.

Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies non-profit policy group and an opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, argued that the Trump administration was pursuing a "waive and slap" approach that temporarily suspends some sanctions while imposing others. The current president, Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who pushed for the 2015 nuclear deal, is considered the slight favorite over Ebrahim Raisi, a former prosecutor who is closely tied to the country's ruling hardline clerics.

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