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State Dept: Iran Allowed to Build New Nuclear Reactors

In this photo released by the Iranian Presidency Office, President Hassan Rouhani, left, speaks as he is accompanied by the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi during his visit to the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside the port city of Bushehr, southern Iran, Tuesday, Jan. 13

Iran is permitted to build new nuclear reactors under the existing conditions of an interim deal with the United States meant to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions, a State Department official told the Washington Free Beacon less than a day after Iran announced the construction of two new nuclear plants.

The construction of these new nuclear plants is not prohibited under existing United Nations restrictions or under the terms of the current interim nuclear agreement inked in 2013 with the United States, according to the State Department official.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Wednesday that Iran has begun construction on two new light water reactor nuclear plants in the southern Bushehr region. The announcement came as senior U.S. officials meet with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva for another round of talks.

The State Department says that it is still reviewing the details of Rouhani's announcement.

"We are aware of the announcement and are reviewing the details," said the official, who was not authorized to speak on record. However, "in general, the construction of light water nuclear reactors is not prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions, nor does it violate the JPOA," the official said.

The United States remains committed to ensuring the "peaceful" nature of Iran's nuclear program, which continues to progress in part as talks continue through July 1.

"We have been clear in saying that the purpose of the negotiations with Iran is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains exclusively for civilian, peaceful purposes," the official said. "The talks that we have been engaged in for months involve a specific set of issues relative to closing off all possible pathways to Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb. That remains our focus."

Rouhani touted the new nuclear construction on Wednesday following a meeting with investors in Bushehr province, where the nuclear facilities are being built.

"Construction of two new power plants will increase the capacity of Bushehr province’s power generation to 2,000 megawatts," Rouhani was quoted as saying by the country’s state-run Fars News Agency.

Rouhani claimed that the new nuclear construction is proof of Iran’s peaceful intentions on this front.

"The Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is an example showing that Iran is only looking for a civilian use of the nuclear energy and for power generation," he was quoted as saying.

The new nuclear plants are being constructed with help from Russia, which signed an agreement in March with Iran to aid in the construction.

As talks with Iran continue, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are gearing up to pass legislation to level more sanctions on Iran, a move that the administration argues would effectively detonate the delicate negotiations.

Final language on a new sanctions bill was agreed upon late Wednesday between Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), according to Bloomberg.

Critics of the ongoing negotiations maintain that the interim deal and subsequent agreements have done little to actually freeze Iran's nuclear progress.

In addition to the nuclear plant construction, Iran is permitted under the current deal to enrich uranium up to 3.5 percent, continue working with plutonium, and continue its controversial work on ballistic missiles.

Iran also has admitted to building advanced missile sites in Syria—where it is fighting on behalf of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—and has been accused in recent days of also building a clandestine nuclear facility there.

"Rouhani went out of his way to humiliate the Obama administration," said one senior foreign policy hand who works on the issue. "He picked the day when negotiations were starting again and his declaration is the literal definition of building new nuclear technology."

"And instead of fighting back, the White House is again rolling over and letting themselves be slapped around," the source said. "They'll do anything—anything—to get a deal with Iran."

Senators have become increasingly frustrated by what they say is the Obama administration's ongoing refusal to give lawmakers a say in the negotiations.

Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Congress will move to enact legislation that will give Congress the ability to veto any final deal that it deems flawed.

"I don’t think the administration really would like for Congress to weigh in in any regard on any issue relating to foreign policy, but Congress will weigh in on this," Corker told Bloomberg. "In the very near future there will be a markup on a bill that will give the Congress the ability to weigh in."