The Trump administration, in a major reversal of Obama administration policy, is seeking to shutter every Iranian nuclear enrichment site, including its heavy water reactors, which could provide Iran with a second, plutonium-based pathway to a nuclear weapon, according to U.S. officials and others familiar with the policy shift.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his first major policy address, called on Iran to shutdown its heavy water nuclear power plants, which were allowed by the Obama administration under the landmark nuclear agreement and laid the groundwork for Tehran and Russia to ink multi-billion dollar deals to build new nuclear reactors throughout the country, construction that is already underway.
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Pompeo's demand is being met with support within the Trump administration and on Capitol Hill. Opponents of the nuclear agreement told the Washington Free Beacon it jibes with ongoing efforts by Congress to strangle Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities.
Iran's nuclear reactors have been a tension point since the nuclear deal was put in place due to the Islamic Republic's production of heavy water—a nuclear enriched byproduct—beyond the amounts allowable under the agreement. In order to ensure Iran was not caught breaching restrictions on heavy water under the deal, the Obama administration used taxpayer money to purchase Iran's excess heavy water, a policy that was immediately reversed by the Trump administration.
In response to Pompeo's speech, Iranian officials have again threatened to abandon the nuclear deal and restart high-level uranium enrichment to levels that cold be used to fuel a nuclear weapon.
"Iran must declare to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program, and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity," Pompeo said in his Monday morning speech.
"Iran must stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing," Pompeo said. "This includes closing its heavy water reactor."
Pompeo's speech sets the stage for the United States to reimpose harsh economic sanctions on Iran that could cripple its already ailing economy and force the Islamic Republic to negotiate a better deal or face regime collapse, according to one senior administration official familiar with the White House's strategy.
"In his refreshingly direct and fact-based speech, Secretary Pompeo formalized President Trump's historic announcement that the United States was leaving the JCPOA two weeks ago," the official told the Free Beacon. "Rather than the willful blindness that characterized the old policy of trying to cajole Tehran into pursuing a nuclear weapon slowly, the secretary clarified that our policy is now to prevent them from getting one altogether."
Pompeo, in alignment with Trump, also sent a message to the Iranian people that the United States supports their democratic efforts to topple the hardline ruling regime.
Pompeo "also made a strong statement of solidarity with the Iranian people, who are the traditional friends of the American people, and who have suffered too long under this autocratic theocracy that is preventing Iran from a secure and prosperous future as a welcomed member of the international community," the official said.
While the Obama administration worked to implement a scheme in which it would pay Iran with taxpayer dollars for its excess heavy water, GOP leaders on Capitol Hill worked to outlaw any further deals.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who led efforts to expose these Obama-era payments to Iran, told the Free Beacon the Trump administration's new efforts to shutter Iran's nuclear enrichment sites represents a policy more in line with reality.
"As someone who has passed amendments to prohibit American taxpayers from reimbursing Iran for its heavy water, I believe Secretary Pompeo is right on target in demanding that Iran cease plutonium processing and enrichment activities," DeSantis said. "A militant Islamist regime cannot be permitted to have any nuclear capacity."
Other sources on Capitol Hill told the Free Beacon the Obama administration allowed Iran to cheat on the deal and then helped it get back in line by sending Tehran taxpayer dollars.
"The Obama administration's purchase of Iranian heavy water gave away the game," said one senior GOP congressional aide who was closely involved in the Iran deal debate. "The Iranians deliberately cheated and violated the deal just to see how the Obama/Kerry team would respond and, wouldn't you know it, the United States responded by literally paying the Iranians to stop violating the deal."
"Then, the State Department turned around and told Congress and the American people that all this showed the deal was working," the source said. "Today they're still using the same line."
Iranian leaders continue to lash out at the Trump administration as they scramble to save the deal and ensure European nations continue doing business in the country.
Iran has vowed to leave the deal if economic assurances are not given by the Europeans, who have already been examining plans to skirt new U.S. sanctions.
"If the conditions prior to the pre-nuclear deal era prevail again after the U.S. withdrawal and Iran is deprived of the nuclear deal advantages, then Iran will have no reason to remain committed to it," Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanayee said in a Tuesday interview.
Other Iranian leaders have begun calling for the full-scale suspension of the deal, which would pave the way for Iran to restart its most sensitive nuclear enrichment work.
"We are not necessitated to declare that we have withdrawn from the nuclear deal but we'd better suspend (implementation of) our nuclear-deal undertakings because the agreement is not in trouble," Mohammad Javad Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Human Rights Council, told the country's state-controlled press organs late Monday.