The Iranian parliament approves a bill to end nuclear controls

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iranian parliament on Tuesday approved a bill suspending UN control of its nuclear facilities and requiring the government to step up uranium enrichment if European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal do not grant immunity from oil and banking sanctions from under.

The vote to pass the bill, which also requires the approval of the Constitutional Guard, the Guardian Council, was a defiance after the assassination of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist last month. Chief Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say in all nuclear policy.

Parliament Speaker Mohmmad Baqer Ghalibaf was quoted as saying by state TV, saying lawmakers were “hoping to remove sanctions with this tough decision”.

The summary of the final vote was not published immediately. But an IRNA official news agency in an earlier Tuesday vote on whether to discuss the bill said 251 deputies in the 290-seat chamber voted in favor, after which many began chanting “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”

The bill would give European countries a month to ease sanctions on Iran’s key oil and gas sector and restore access to the international banking system. The United States imposed crippling sanctions against Iran after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal, triggering a series of escalations between the two sides.

According to the bill, the authorities would continue to enrich uranium to 20%, which will be lower than the threshold required for nuclear weapons but higher than for civilian applications. It would also commission new centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facilities and the Fordo underground site.

Legislators have called for a more confrontational approach since the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018.

Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei on Tuesday acknowledged the limitations of such an approach, stating that the nuclear dossier is under the authority of the Supreme National Security Council and “no one can work on it on their own”. Hassan Rouhani, a relatively moderate president, chairs the Guardian Council, which is accountable to the top leader.

The bill was first introduced to parliament in August, but received new impetus after the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was examining the feasibility of building a nuclear weapons program for Israel and the West, which is said to be a military operation. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the “structured program” ended in 2003. U.S. intelligence agencies agreed with this assessment in a 2007 report.

Israel insists that Iran maintain its ambition to develop nuclear weapons, pointing to Tehran’s ballistic missile program and research into other technologies. Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program serves peaceful purposes.

Iran has blamed the assassination of Fakhrizadeh for Israel, which has long waged a covert war against Tehran and close representatives of the region. Israeli officials refused to comment on the murder and no one took responsibility.

Some Iranian lawmakers have suggested that the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has regularly inspected Iran’s nuclear facilities in recent years as part of the 2015 agreement, could be a source of intelligence for Fakhrizadeh’s killers.

Iran has publicly exceeded the level of uranium enrichment set by the nuclear deal after the US reinstated sanctions. It is currently enriching its growing uranium reserves to 4.5% purity.

This is still far below the 90% weapons grade level, although experts warn that Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium to reprocess as fuel for at least two atomic bombs if it decides to pursue it.