A Russian atomic energy corporation announced late Monday that it has formally begun construction on a new $10 billion nuclear plant in Iran amid global efforts by the Trump administration to crack down on the Islamic Republic's nuclear endeavors.
The deal, which has been in the works since the Obama administration negotiated the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran, is aimed at further cementing ties between Moscow and Tehran and is being handled by Russia's state Rosatom corporation.
Iran is permitted to construct new nuclear reactors and plants under the current nuclear agreement, a point former Obama administration officials disclosed to the Washington Free Beacon in January 2015, when the two countries were inking a deal to build at least three new nuclear plants in Iran.
The allowance of such construction under the nuclear deal has sparked criticism from some U.S. lawmakers and nuclear experts, who have warned that these plants would provide Iran with an alternate, plutonium-based, pathway to a nuclear weapon.
The State Department declined to comment directly on yesterday's announcement, only telling the Free Beacon, "We will continue to hold Iran strictly accountable to its commitment under the JCPOA," or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Asked if the administration supports such a move and views it as in line with the accord, the official declined further comment.
The Obama administration was open about Iran's right to build new nuclear plants, despite concerns over the level of nuclear-related know-how this would impart to Tehran.
"In general, the construction of light water nuclear reactors is not prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions, nor does it violate the JPOA," an Obama administration State Department official told the Free Beacon in 2015, referring to the interim nuclear agreement that paved the way for the JCPOA.
The head of Rosatom said late Monday that the new nuclear project will boost Russian-Iranian ties, which have flourished since the nuclear deal, particularly in Syria, where both countries have worked in tandem to support Bashar al Assad.
"I am sure this major Russia-Iran investment project will strengthen cooperation and ties between our countries," Alexey Likhachev, Rosatom's Director General, was quoted as saying at the ground breaking ceremony for the new nuclear plant.
The new plant, dubbed Bushehr-2 after Iran's original nuclear facility, will be equipped with the latest nuclear technology and be capable of producing larger amounts of electricity, according to reports in Russian-controlled media.
It is expected to take up to a decade to finish the construction.
Russia also jointly build Bushehr-1, Iran's original nuclear plant, which went online in 2011.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladamir Putin has been on a diplomatic visit to Iran, visiting Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei early Wednesday. Putin is set to meet a range of high-level Iranian officials as the two countries seek to boost their diplomatic relations on a range of fronts.
UPDATE 4:20 p.m.: After publishing, a White House National Security Council official told the Free Beacon that the administration expects Iran and Russia to ensure the new nuclear plants "fully adhere" to requirements expressed under the JCPOA.
"The administration continues to closely monitor Iranian nuclear activity, including plans for a second unit at the Bushehr nuclear power plant," the official said. "We expect that Russia and Iran will ensure all projects fully adhere to the requirements in the JCPOA and [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 2231."