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Iranian panel okays bill to end UN nuclear inspections, increase enrichment

Proposal sent to Iran’s president, who says it will harm efforts to restore nuclear accord and receive US sanctions relief; supreme leader has final say on whether it’s implemented

In this picture released by official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, President Hassan Rouhani, second right, parliament speaker Ali Larijani, right, judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani, second left, and head of the Assembly of Experts and secretary of Guardian Council Ahmad Jannati listen to the national anthem at the start of the official endorsement ceremony of President Rouhani in Tehran, Iran, August 3, 2017. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
In this picture released by official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, President Hassan Rouhani, second right, parliament speaker Ali Larijani, right, judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani, second left, and head of the Assembly of Experts and secretary of Guardian Council Ahmad Jannati listen to the national anthem at the start of the official endorsement ceremony of President Rouhani in Tehran, Iran, August 3, 2017. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

A key Iranian panel on Wednesday signed off on a bill to suspend UN inspections and boost uranium enrichment, sending it to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who opposes the measure.

Iranian state TV says the constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, approved the bill and formally sent it to Rouhani who now has five working days to officially sign off on a bill to make it executable.

Rouhani earlier on Wednesday expressed his opposition to the bill approved by parliament the previous day, saying it would be “harmful” to diplomatic efforts aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal and easing US sanctions.

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

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

This photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

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

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

Even if Rouhani were to change his mind and approve the bill, it is unlikely to have an impact as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policies, including those related to the nuclear program.

Under the law, if the president refuses to sign the bill, it will be automatically signed by the parliament speaker to go into effect.

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

Military personnel stand near the flag-draped coffin of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist who was killed on Friday, during a funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, November 30, 2020. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

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 the “structured program” ended in 2003, while Israel says Iran is still aiming to develop nuclear weapons, pointing to its work on ballistic missiles and other technologies.

The US imposed crippling sanctions on Iran after President Donald 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 US 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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