Iran nuclear program

Two-thirds of the members of Iran's parliament are in favor of restarting the country's heavy-water nuclear facility at Arak, shown above in a file photo, if the U.S. Congress adopts new sanctions against Iran. (Hamid Foroutan / AFP/Getty Images / January 15, 2011)

TEHRAN — More than two-thirds of the Iranian parliament has signed on to a bill that would accelerate Iran’s nuclear program if Congress adopts new sanctions legislation, official news agencies said.

The bill would direct Iran’s nuclear agency to enrich uranium to 60%, close to the 90% needed for the material to be used as nuclear bomb fuel. It is currently enriched to a maximum of 20%.

The legislation also calls for the start-up of Iran’s partially built Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor.

The Mehr news agency said Sunday that support for the measure in parliament has risen from 100 lawmakers last week to more than 200. The proposal would still need approval from the parliament’s governing board.

Iranian lawmakers have described the bill as retaliation for legislation introduced in the Senate this month that would impose tough new sanctions on Iran in six months if it fails to cooperate with upcoming international negotiations aimed at setting limits for its nuclear program. Many countries fear that, despite its denials, Iran is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability.

Iranian lawmakers originally described the bill as retaliation for the Obama administration’s recent blacklisting of a group of Iranian organizations and individuals in enforcement of past sanctions.

The lawmakers view both U.S. moves as violations of the preliminary nuclear deal signed Nov. 24, temporarily freezing some aspects of Iran's nuclear program.

The White House has mounted an intense lobbying campaign to halt the Senate legislation, which officials argue would undermine the diplomatic effort and could set off a “march to war.” The sanctions advocates, who include Democrats such as Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, contend “standby” sanctions are needed to prevent Iran from dragging its feet.

Also Sunday, senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi warned that Iran would halt cooperation with the preliminary nuclear deal if any sanctions legislation is adopted by Congress.

“Implementation of the Geneva deal will be stopped, no doubt,” Araqchi said, according to the Iranian Student News Agency.

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Staff Writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.