File photo of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Photograph:( Reuters )
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
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday rejected a bill approved by parliament that would have suspended U.N. 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 Rouhani, a relative moderate, and hard-line lawmakers who dominate parliament and favor a more confrontational approach to the West.
The bill would have suspended U.N. inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities and to "produce and store 120 kilogrammes per year of uranium enriched to 20 percent" if European nations failed 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, Rouhani said his administration, "does not agree with the bill and considers it harmful to the ongoing diplomatic work." He implied the lawmakers were positioning themselves ahead of elections planned for June.
He said there had been speculation in the media that he had not gone to parliament because of the bill.
"Not going to parliament is solely because of (coronavirus) safety guidelines," he said.
The Iranian parliament's backing on Tuesday of a plan to end nuclear inspections after the assassination of the country's top nuclear scientist has met immediate opposition from the government.
Deputies supported a draft bill "for the lifting of sanctions and protection of the Iranian people's interests", saying they wanted to achieve the objectives of "martyred" scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Fakhrizadeh was assassinated on a major road outside Tehran on Friday in a bomb and gun attack that the Islamic republic has blamed on its arch foe Israel.
"The government has explicitly announced that it does not agree with (this) plan" which it considers "neither necessary nor useful", foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference Tuesday.
Seemingly in response to Israel's characterisation of Fakhrizadeh as the father of a secret nuclear weapons programme, Khatibzadeh said that the scientist had been "one of the main assistants behind the scenes in discussions" that led to the 2015 accord.
State news agency IRNA on Tuesday released undated pictures of Fakhrizadeh being awarded a medal by Iran's President Hassan Rouhani for his "contribution" to the Vienna agreement.
The multilateral accord has been hanging by a thread since 2018, when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States and reimposed sanctions that have battered Iran's economy.
The Islamic republic has retaliated by gradually rolling back most of its commitments under the nuclear deal.
In its latest report last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had enriched uranium over the 3.67 percent limit set out in the 2015 accord.
The UN's nuclear watchdog said that Iran had not exceeded the threshold of 4.5 percent and that the country was still complying with its strict inspections regime.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Iran's government spokesman Ali Rabiei emphasised that the only institution mandated to make decisions on the country's nuclear programme was the Supreme National Security Council.
He also noted that any decisions made by that body require approval by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.