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US extends Iran nuclear sanctions relief

The Trump administration has said it will continue granting nuclear sanctions relief to Iran, keeping the Obama-era nuclear deal intact for now.

But the US also announced new unrelated sanctions in a bid to show it was not letting Tehran off the hook.

Under the 2015 deal, sanctions punishing Iran for its nuclear programme were waived in exchange for Iran's commitment to roll back the programme.

But continuing the sanctions relief requires the renewal of a six-month waiver.

The most recent waiver, issued by former secretary of state John Kerry in December, was set to expire this week.

Stuart Jones, the top US diplomat in charge of the Middle East, said the US is still forming a "comprehensive Iran policy", alluding to President Donald Trump's assertion that he may tear up the deal after he finishes reviewing it.

In the meantime, Mr Jones said, the US will keep implementing the deal - including the sanctions relief.

"This ongoing review does not diminish the United States' resolve to continue countering Iran's destabilising activity in the region, whether it be supporting the Assad regime, backing terrorist organisations like Hezbollah, or supporting violent militias that undermine governments in Iraq and Yemen," Mr Jones said.

"And above all, the United States will never allow the regime in Iran to acquire nuclear weapons."

Aiming to undercut the perception that Mr Trump is softening on Iran, the US paired the announcement with new sanctions punishing Iran for its ballistic missiles programme.

Under the nuclear deal, the US can continue sanctioning Iran for other, non-nuclear behaviour, although Tehran has threatened to pull out of the deal if the US and other countries do so.

The new economic sanctions announced on Wednesday target Iranian military officials, the state department said, along with an Iranian entity and a network based in China that are accused of supplying Iran with materials for ballistic missiles.

The state department also released a new report criticising Iran for human rights abuses, including the alleged mistreatment of prisoners.

AP

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