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Iran’s president opposes bill parliament approved to suspend U.N. inspections, boost uranium enrichment

Iranian military commanders attend the funeral Monday of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi.
Iranian military commanders attend the funeral Monday of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, who was killed last week.
(Iranian Defense Ministry)

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday expressed his opposition to a bill approved by parliament the previous day to suspend U.N. inspections and boost uranium enrichment, saying it would be “harmful” to diplomatic efforts aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal and easing U.S. sanctions.

The tug of war over the bill, which gained momentum after the assassination of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist last week, reflects the rivalry between Rouhani, a relative moderate, and the hard-line lawmakers who dominate parliament and favor a more confrontational approach to the West.

The bill would suspend United Nations nuclear inspections and require the government to resume enriching uranium to 20% grade if European nations failed to provide relief from crippling American sanctions on the country’s oil and banking sectors. That level of enrichment falls short of the threshold needed for nuclear weapons but is higher than that required for civilian purposes.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting about the bill, Rouhani said that his administration “does not agree with that and considers it harmful for the trend of diplomatic activities.” He implied that the lawmakers were positioning themselves ahead of elections planned for June.

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“Today, we are more powerful in the nuclear field than at any other time,” he added.

Later Wednesday, Iranian state TV said the constitutional watchdog the Guardian Council also approved the bill and sent it to Rouhani, who has five working days to sign off on a bill to make it executable.

Under the law, Rouhani’s action on the bill is unlikely to have any effect. Even if he changes his mind and signs it, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policies, including those related to the nuclear program. And if the president refuses to sign the bill, it will be automatically signed by the parliament speaker and forwarded to Khamenei.

Tuesday’s approval by lawmakers appeared to be a show of defiance after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, a key figure in Iran’s nuclear program, was killed last week in an attack Iranian officials have blamed on Israel.

The assassination of a top nuclear scientist comes at a fragile moment for Iran’s government, which must balance calls for vengeance even as it waits for Biden to take office.

Fakhrizadeh headed a program that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that that “structured program” ended in 2003.

The U.S. government has concurred with those findings, while Israel says Iran is still aiming to develop nuclear weapons, pointing to its work on ballistic missiles and other technologies. Iran contends that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The U.S. imposed severe sanctions on Iran after President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018. In response, Iran began publicly exceeding limits set by the agreement while saying it would quickly return to compliance if the United States did the same.

Rouhani, one of the architects of the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, favors a return to the deal and greater diplomatic engagement with the U.S. and other Western nations. President-elect Joe Biden has also said he is in favor of returning to the nuclear deal.


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