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U.S. lets Iran keep benefits of nuke deal

By JOSH LEDERMAN Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration took a key step Wednesday toward preserving the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, coupling the move with fresh ballistic missile sanctions to show it isn't going light on the Islamic republic.

The State Department said Iran would continue to enjoy relief from decades-old economic measures punishing Tehran for its nuclear program. Under the 2015 nuclear agreement, the U.S. lifted those sanctions. But Washington must issue periodical waivers to keep the penalties from snapping back into place and the most recent one was set to expire this week.

Donald Trump as a candidate vowed to renegotiate or tear up the nuclear deal. As president, he has altered his position, insisting he is still studying the accord and hasn't made a final decision.

The U.S. paired the announcement with new, unrelated sanctions that go after Iran for a ballistic missiles program that Washington fears could target American interests in the Middle East or key allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday's sanctions target Iranian military officials along with an Iranian company and China-based network accused of supplying Iran with materials for ballistic missiles, the State Department said.

The dual moves -- ensuring old sanctions on Iran don't return while imposing new ones -- appeared aimed at undercutting the impression that Trump's stance on Iran has softened. Since taking office, Trump's administration has sanctioned hundreds in Iran and in Syria -- an Iranian ally -- as part of a campaign to increase pressure on Iran even as it reviews the nuclear deal.

Stuart Jones, the top U.S. diplomat in charge of the Middle East, said the U.S. is still forming a "comprehensive Iran policy" that addresses Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and militant groups in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

"This ongoing review does not diminish the United States' resolve to continue countering Iran's destabilizing activity in the region, whether it be supporting the Assad regime, backing terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, or supporting violent militias that undermine governments in Iraq and Yemen," Jones said. "And above all, the United States will never allow the regime in Iran to acquire nuclear weapons."

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