April 15, 2024 | Flash Brief

Congress Seeks Answers on U.S. Failure to Sanction Iran-Russia Nuclear Cooperation

April 15, 2024 | Flash Brief

Congress Seeks Answers on U.S. Failure to Sanction Iran-Russia Nuclear Cooperation

Latest Developments

Congress is seeking an explanation from the Biden administration for its failure thus far to sanction Russia for assisting Iran’s nuclear program, as required by U.S. law. In February 2023, the Biden administration threatened to sanction Russia for assisting Iran with a planned expansion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. A subsidiary of Russia’s state-run Rosatom Corporation is responsible for building two new reactor units, having broken ground on space for the second reactor last fall.

On April 8, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s annual nuclear technology day, the regime announced plans to continue expanding the Bushehr plant to a third unit. “We will witness the first concrete pouring at Phase 3 of Bushehr Power Plant in the month of May,” said Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Mohammad Eslami. Congress seeks the administration’s latest position about the project, since Moscow stands to earn some $10 billion from the Bushehr expansion even as it continues a war of aggression against Ukraine.

Expert Analysis

“The Biden administration must sanction Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran. Tehran cannot have access to such benefits while it is actively violating nonproliferation safeguards and its program is under investigation for nuclear weapons activities. Moscow must not have this revenue stream to prosecute its war.” — Andrea Stricker, FDD Research Fellow and Deputy Director of FDD’s Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program

“The Islamic Republic’s atomic infrastructure has been perennially out of compliance with nonproliferation safeguards and today bolsters the regime’s near-threshold status. Any foreign cooperation with or support for this program would aid the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism in its drive for a bomb and naturally must be subject to sanctions.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

Potentially Sanctionable Activity

The Iran Freedom and Counterproliferation Act of 2013 prohibits the “sale, supply or transfer of certain materials to and from Iran” related to the regime’s nuclear, military, and ballistic missile programs, and allows the president to submit sanctions waivers every 180 days containing exemptions based on national security reasons. In the absence of a waiver, the president must sanction foreign individuals and financial institutions that violate the act.

In 2019 and 2020, the Trump administration ended Obama administration sanctions waivers that permitted Russian, Chinese, and European companies to work on Iranian nuclear projects, including Moscow’s exemption to build additional Bushehr reactors under the now-defunct 2015 Iran nuclear deal. To bolster indirect nuclear talks with the regime, in 2022, the Biden administration restored several waivers allowing foreign nuclear assistance to Iran, but reportedly retained as a sanctionable activity Russia’s building of new reactors at Bushehr, and perhaps elsewhere.

Iran’s Failure to Declare Nuclear Facilities

Iran aims to dramatically expand its nuclear power capabilities in addition to adding the new reactor units at Bushehr. In February, however, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had refused to comply with safeguards obligations requiring Tehran to provide early notification of plans and design information for new nuclear facilities such as reactors.

In December 2023, Tehran began excavation for a new research reactor in Darkhovin, known as the IR-360. The IAEA reported that the regime violated its safeguards agreement by failing to provide early notification and design information for the project. On February 1, Tehran — potentially without fulfilling its safeguards obligations — broke ground on a new set of four nuclear power plants in Sirik. Iran has not publicly announced whether foreign countries will assist the project, but Russia or even China may play a role.

How Russia Could Earn Billions from Biden’s Revival of the Nuclear Deal with Iran,” by Andrea Stricker

Iran Failed to Declare New Nuclear Facility, IAEA Reports,” FDD Flash Brief

What to Know About Iran’s Nuclear Program: Breakout Time,” FDD Visual


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Iran Sanctions Nonproliferation Russia