The Obama administration’s $8.6 million purchase of nuclear material from Iran appears to have stalled over Iranian demands that the United States hand over the money in advance, according to recent remarks by Iranian officials.
U.S. officials have been telling the Washington Free Beacon for more than a month that the deal would be completed in "the coming weeks."
However, the administration has declined multiple attempts to obtain further information about the taxpayer-funded sale, which congressional leaders claim is "potentially illegal."
Iranian officials stated this week that the Islamic Republic would not move forward with the sale of 32 tons of heavy water, a nuclear byproduct, until the United States agrees to pay the $8.6 million price tag in advance of the delivery.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials at the State, Treasury, and Energy Departments remain mum about the holdup despite repeated questions from the Free Beacon and other reporters.
One U.S. official told the Free Beacon in late April that the administration "cannot discuss details of the payment until after the purchase is complete."
Asked several more times between April and May to disclose details about the sale, an Energy Department official only said the sale would be completed "in the coming weeks."
State Department Spokesman John Kirby repeated this stance on Wednesday when he told reporters, "We expect the [Iranian] heavy water to arrive in the U.S. in the coming weeks. I just don't have additional details right now."
These same U.S. officials would not comment on recent remarks by the head of Iran’s atomic organization claiming that the sale had stalled following a U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering the Islamic Republic to pay U.S. victims of terror $2 billion in damages.
"We are due to sell 32 tons of heavy water to the U.S. and we made the conditions a little harder after the [U.S.] seizure of $2 [billion] of Iran's assets and they [the Americans] should first pay the money," Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, was quoted as saying in the country’s state-controlled press on Tuesday.
Salehi was referring to the recent Supreme Court decision ordering Iran’s central bank to dole out $2 billion to U.S. victims of terror attacks sponsored by the Islamic Republic.
Iranian officials reacted furiously to the decision and have moved to counter-sue the United States over the decision.
Salehi threatened that Iran would offer Russia and European countries a deal for the heavy water instead.
"We are in talks with the Russians to sell 40 tons of heavy water to them," he was quoted as saying. "The European countries have also declared their need to buy 20 tons of heavy water from Iran."
U.S. officials had celebrated the heavy water deal as a win for both countries.
Iran would remain in compliance with last summer’s comprehensive nuclear deal and the United States would in turn receive much-needed nuclear material, these officials said in April.
Iran’s excess heavy water "will help to fulfill a substantial portion of U.S. domestic market demand this year," according to an Energy Department official, who told the Free Beacon at the time that "over the past few years, there have often been constrained supplies of heavy water."
Outside nuclear experts accused the Obama administration of distorting the facts about the need for this heavy water, claiming that other suppliers such as Canada were more than capable of fulfilling U.S. demand.
Stephen Mull, the State Department official in charge of implementing the nuclear deal, told Congress last week that the United States has no other option than to purchase the heavy water from Iran.
"There are only two countries that regularly export heavy water—Canada and India. Canada ceased production of heavy water in 1997 and only sporadically makes it available," Mull said.
In recent days, the Institute for Science and International Security, a top voice on international nuclear issues, has challenged this claim.
"We have learned, and wrote in an earlier report, that this is a false portrayal of Canada’s ability to supply heavy water," the institute disclosed in a recent report. "For several years prior to stopping production of heavy water, Canada stockpiled a huge amount of heavy water which it is now seeking to sell. There is certainly no shortage of available heavy water from Canada."
The heavy water deal also has come under criticism from some in Congress due to regulations barring the use of U.S. dollars to conduct transactions with Iran.
"The Obama administration’s deal with the Mullahs in Tehran to purchase heavy water demonstrates a disturbing, potentially illegal, willingness of the administration to subsidize Iran’s nuclear program," Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) told the Free Beacon in April. "This purchase allows the Iranians to offload previously unsellable product and it destigmatizes the act of doing business in Iran."