President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. August 21, 2021

US Renewed Iran Sanctions Waiver For Iraq As Nuclear Talk Resumed

Saturday, 12/04/2021
Maryam Sinaiee

A British Iranian journalist and political analyst and a regular contributor to Iran International

The United States 'quietly' renewed a waiver for Iraq to buy Iranian electricity just as Iran’s nuclear talks in Vienna resumed, a conservative website has said.

TheWashinton Beaconreported Friday that it had obtained a ‘non-notification’ provided to Congress signed November 19 that gave Iraq another 120 days to buy electricity from Iran without facing the threat of punitive US action.

The Free Beacon said the waiver was transmitted to Congress ten days later, on the day nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers resumed in Vienna in an attempt to revive the 2015 deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

‘Goodwill concessions’

Hence the timing had prompted accusations, the Free Beacon continued, that the Biden administration was "offering concessions to Tehran to generate goodwill" as the JCPOA talks resumed.

Richard Goldberg, the former ‘director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction’ in Trump's White House National Security Council described Iraq’s electricity waiver as a "dressed-up Chanukah present to" Iran. Chanukah is a Jewish festival.

The Free Beacon was concerned that the Biden administration was responding to calls from Iran for the US to show ‘good will’ over the nuclear talks. “Good deal within reach if the West shows good will," Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian tweeted Friday.

But the renewal of the Iraq’s waivers by both the Trump and Biden administrations has been largely a routine matter in the past.

The Free Beacon did reports that the State Department had justified the waiver, granted "at the secretary [of state's] discretion" (under executive orders passed by Trump), remained "in the national security interest of the United States" and was necessitated by Iraq's failure to reduce reliance on Iranian electricity.

Electricity Shortages

Iraq leans heavily on Iranian electricity and gas. As highlighted by human rights groups, Iraqi hospitals and other public services have in recent years faced electricity shortagesas the health system struggles to recover from years of sanctions and war.

The US sanctions waiver for Iraq to receive electricity and gas exports from Iran has been renewed several times since 2018 when former President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and took powers to sanction any third party dealing with Iran.

The Trump administration renewed Iraq’s waiver for 90 days on January 4 before handing the administration over to President Joe Biden. The Biden administration renewed the waiver for 120 days on March 31, ahead of the first round of nuclear talks with the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, and for another 120 days in early August before President Ebrahim Raisi took office.

Iran owed $6bn

Iraq owes over $6 billion to Iran for electricity and gas imports, which has been frozen by Iraqi banks wary of possible US punitive action. Tehran has struggled to access the payments despite both Iranian and Iraqi officials saying they are working for a mechanism to pay the debt.

Repeated suggestions that, with dollar payments blocked, Iran might receive payments in kind, either though using dinars or barter, appear not to have borne fruit.

Citing a "reliable source" in March, an official of the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce, Hamid Hosseini, said Iran had received some payments from funds frozen in Iraq, including the state-owned Trade Bank of Iraq, after Washington’s agreement. Hosseini said the Iraqi government had a variety of explanations, including US sanctions, not to pay Iran for natural gas.

In June the Central Bank of Iran governor Abdolnaser Hemmati said the bank had made progress in talks with Iraqi officials over using frozen Iranian resources to buy humanitarian goods, but Iraqi officials have not confirmed such claims.

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