Politics

Tensions within Iranian regime palpable over uranium enrichment law

By Al-Mashareq

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The Iranian parliament (Majles) on December 2nd passed a bill into law mandating further uranium enrichment. [Photo via Qudsonline.ir]

"Allow us to do our job," Iranian president Hassan Rouhani told Iran's legislative body on Thursday (December 3rd).

Tensions within the Iranian regime have risen on the heels of the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a former member of the IRGC who was the director of the Defence Ministry's Organisation of Defensive Innovation and Research and a founder of Iran's nuclear programme.

He was assassinated outside Tehran on November 27th in a bomb and gun attack. His assassination -- added to the killings of other Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years, several explosions at sensitive military bases, and the recent theft of sensitive nuclear and missile programme documents from a nuclear facility in Iran -- has prompted a deluge of criticism of Iranian intelligence capabilities.

Almost immediately after the assassination, the Iranian Parliament (Majles) moved to pass a bill to resume uranium enrichment and distance the country from its commitment to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Guardian Council, an appointed conservative body that oversees the elected government, ratified the bill into law very quickly, making it a government mandate on Wednesday (December 2nd).

The law orders an immediate increase in uranium enrichment to levels closer to weapons-grade fuel, as well as the expulsion of international nuclear inspectors if the international community does not lift sanctions on the regime by early February.

It calls on the government to end the IAEA inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities and to "produce and store 120 kilogrammes per year of uranium enriched to 20%".

Uranium enriched to that level would give Iran the ability to convert its entire stockpile to bomb-grade levels within six months, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

However, just one day after the Guardian Council ratified the new bill, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that if the signatories of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal recommit to it, the new law "would not be implemented by Iran's government".

Breaking with mandate?

Speaking via videoconference on Thursday at the annual Italian-sponsored Mediterranean Dialogues forum, Zarif said the government is not happy with the enactment, but "if it is finalised", the Rouhani administration is obligated to implement it.

According to the Islamic Republic's Constitution, any enactment that is passed by the Guardian Council is law and the government is obliged to execute it. Since there are no further steps to "finalise" the enactment, Zarif's stance could be interpreted as breaking with the mandate in favour of potential negotiations with the West.

More than Zarif's words, Rouhani's remarks caught the attention of Iranian media on Thursday. They were referred to as an overt criticism of hardliners' stance against negotiations.

Rouhani urged hardliners and the conservative Majles to allow him and his cabinet to "do our job" and move forward based on "experience and proven capabilities" -- thus breaking away, albeit verbally, from the mandated increase in the level of uranium enrichment.

One day earlier, he expressly voiced the government's disagreement with the legislation and said he "considers it damaging for diplomacy".

In its latest report last month, the IAEA said the Iranian stockpile of enriched uranium stands at more than 12 times the 3.67% limit set out in the 2015 accord.

Still, Tehran has not exceeded the threshold of 4.5% and the country is complying with its strict inspection regime, the UN's nuclear watchdog said.

As of now, there is no indication that the Iranian government will move forward with the newly passed law to further enrich uranium.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the US Department of the Treasury announced sanctions against Shahid Meisami Group, a company affiliated with the Iranian defence ministry, and its director.

According to the Treasury, Shahid Meisami Group "is involved in Iran's chemical weapons research and is subordinate to the Iranian Organisation of Defensive Innovation and Research, also known as SPND".

"The US designated SPND in 2014 in connection with the Iranian regime's proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) or their means of delivery," it said.

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