Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Picture: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Picture: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI

Tehran — Iran’s top political chamber gave final approval to a bill forcing President Hassan Rouhani to end international nuclear inspections unless the US lifts key sanctions by February, extending the deadline for sanctions relief to two months, instead of one.

The action puts pressure on the incoming Biden administration to make a fast diplomatic breakthrough.

The new legislation also says that Iran will immediately take measures to start producing 20% enriched uranium for peaceful purposes and increase its stockpile of the fissile material, potentially reducing the time Iran needs to make preparations to acquire a weapon.

The powerful Guardian Council, a political and legal body made up of senior clerics and scholars, ratified the bill on Wednesday and made it a legal requirement, while extending the deadline for sanctions relief to two months, instead of one, Iranian state TV reported.

That would appear to give Rouhani’s government — severely weakened since outgoing US. President Donald Trump walked away from the 2015 nuclear deal — barely two weeks after successor Joe Biden enters office to make major strides towards brokering the removal of US oil and banking sanctions.

The bill says that if the US doesn’t remove sanctions on Iran’s lending industry, exports of crude oil and petroleum products and overseas foreign currency deposits within two months, parliament will suspend a voluntary agreement the country has with UN  inspectors that allows them intrusive access to nuclear sites.

The nuclear accord placed strict limits of 3.67% on the purity level of enriched uranium Iran is allowed but it abandoned the cap after Trump withdrew from the agreement and other partners were unable to offer promised relief from sanctions.

About 630kg  of low-enriched uranium must be purified to 90% to yield the 15kg to 22kg  of weapons-grade uranium needed by an expert bomb-maker to craft a weapon.

Iran’s store of low-enriched uranium increased to about 2,443kg from 2,105kg in the third quarter of this year, according to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It’s unclear whether the government is able to contest or appeal the Guardian Council’s decision or whether the so-called Additional Protocol, which Iran signed with the IAEA alongside the 2015 nuclear accord, can be legally suspended by lawmakers alone.

Iran’s hardline parliament fast-tracked the law’s passage on Tuesday after Iran accused Israel and the US of killing Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top nuclear scientist, last week.

Biden has said he wants to reinstate the nuclear deal while Trump has been accelerating his efforts to destroy it before he leaves the White House on January 20.

Earlier on Wednesday, Rouhani rejected and criticised the legislation.

“Of course the government does not agree with that ruling and sees it as harmful to diplomatic efforts,” Rouhani told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

On Tuesday, the IAEA played down the draft bill’s significance as a domestic matter that has had no bearing on co-operation between Iran and the agency.

Increased tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme and incidents such as the killing of Fakhrizadeh could complicate life for the incoming Biden administration, which has pledged to end Trump’s economic offensive against Tehran and re-engage diplomatically.

Iran said on Wednesday that the Ministry of Intelligence had “identified relevant individuals” involved in the assassination, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. Israel hasn’t commented on the claim it was behind the killing.

Bloomberg  

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