Iran’s top political chamber gave final approval to a bill forcing President Hassan Rouhani to end international nuclear inspections unless the U.S. lifts key sanctions by February, giving the incoming Biden administration just weeks to make a 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 U.S. President Donald Trump walked away from the 2015 nuclear deal — barely two weeks after successor Joe Biden enters office to make major strides toward brokering the removal of U.S. oil and banking sanctions.
The bill says that if the U.S. 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 United Nations 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 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium must be purified to 90% to yield the 15 to 22 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium needed by an expert bomb-maker to craft a weapon.
Iran’s store of low-enriched uranium increased to about 2,443 kilograms (5,386 pounds) from 2,105 kilograms in the third quarter of this year, according to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency.
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 hard-line parliament fast-tracked the law’s passage on Tuesday after Iran accused Israel and the U.S. 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 Jan. 20.
Earlier on Wednesday, Rouhani rejected and criticized 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 cooperation between Iran and the agency.
Increased tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and incidents like 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.
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