Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani rejected a bill approved by parliament that would have suspended UN inspections and boosted uranium enrichment, saying it was “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 Mr Rouhani, a relative moderate, and hard-line politicians who dominate parliament and favour a more confrontational approach to the West.
The bill would have suspended UN inspections and required 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.
Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Mr Rouhani said his administration, “does not agree with that and considers it harmful for the trend of diplomatic activities”.
He implied the politicians were positioning themselves ahead of elections planned for June.
He added that “today, we are more powerful in the nuclear field than at any other time”.
The bill is expected to have little if any impact, as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policies, including those related to the nuclear programme.
Rather, it appeared to be a show of defiance after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a key figure in Iran’s nuclear programme, was killed in an attack Iranian officials have blamed on Israel.
Mr Fakhrizadeh headed a programme 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 “structured programme” ended in 2003.
One of our country’s eminent scientists in the nuclear & defense fields – Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh -has been martyred by brutal mercenaries. With his great, enduring scientific efforts, he sacrificed his life on the path of God & the lofty status of martyrdom is his divine reward.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 28, 2020
The US 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 insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.
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.
Mr Rouhani, one of the architects of the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, favours 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 favour of returning to the nuclear deal.