Iranian leaders announced on Monday the construction of two new nuclear plants, and it remains unclear if the Trump administration views this as crossing a red line since its abandonment of the landmark nuclear deal, which included provisions permitting Iran to work on heavy water nuclear reactors that could provide a plutonium-based pathway to a bomb.
On the same day it announced these new nuclear reactors, which are being built in conjunction with Russia, Iran announced it would be filing papers accusing the United States of "crimes against humanity."
The new nuclear moves are rattling congressional Iran hawks, who have been critical of a series of waivers issued by the Trump administration permitting Iran to continue engaging in nuclear research, including at an underground site that once housed the regime's nuclear weapons program.
It remains unclear if the Trump administration will move to block this activity and sanction any international company that aids Iran in the construction of the new nuclear reactors.
"If the State Department is even considering waivers for Iran to expand its nuclear program, if those are even a little bit in play, you have to ask yourself what else is already a done deal and why that isn't public yet," one veteran Republican official, reflecting the views of many Iran hawks, told the Washington Free Beacon.
"You also have to ask yourself if the State Department knows that Republicans won the last presidential election or whether we're all just going to pretend it's Obama's third term and the Iran deal is still in place," the source said.
Ali Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, announced on Monday that construction of the two new nuclear plants have begun in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr.
"Everything is moving ahead in an excellent manner," Salehi was quoted as saying in the country's state-controlled press. "I was in Bushehr two or three days ago and the Bushehr 2 and Bushehr 3 power plants are being constructed."
The State Department would not respond to questions about its policy on Iran's nuclear construction.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Monday that Iran had begun filing paperwork accusing the United States of "crimes against humanity" for its reimposition of harsh sanctions on Tehran.
"The presidential office's legal department, the justice minister, and foreign minister are required to compile a bill of complaint on crime against humanity against the Americans and those who were involved in sanctions and implementation of sanctions so that we can take it to a competent court for prosecution," Rouhani was quoted as saying.
"The world should know that the U.S. move [sanctions] is not aimed at the Iranian government and nuclear technology but it is against the Iranian people's health, environment, ordinary life, foodstuff and medicine," Rouhani said.
However, it is the nuclear reactors that are eliciting outrage within the Trump administration and on Capitol Hill.
The news comes amid an ongoing inter-agency battle over how far to go in sanctioning Iran and its illicit activities. Some elements of the Trump administration are angling to keep issuing waivers to permit Iran's nuclear work, as well as its production of lucrative crude oil.
The debate has been raging inside the administration for months, with some hardline officials expressing frustration at some colleagues for seeking to preserve the nuclear deal and keep it on life support, despite President Donald Trump's vocal commitment to a policy he describes as "maximum pressure."
Some administration officials in the State Department have made clear that these various waivers exempting countries from sanctions are necessary to preserve the framework of the Iran nuclear deal.
"Even as we have been systematically re-imposing sanctions related to Iran in pursuit of the better, 'win-win' deal of which I speak, we have carefully refrained from restoring sanctions in such a way as to obstruct international cooperation with Iran on a number of projects contemplated under the JCPOA that provide Iran opportunities to benefit from nuclear technology in ways not raising proliferation risks," Chris Ford, assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, said in December in comments that rankled some Iran hawks.
"To accomplish this, the secretary of state waived the imposition of certain sanctions to the extent necessary to enable specified nonproliferation activities involving Iran," Ford explained.
Published under: Iran