Iran’s president rejects bill that would boost enrichment

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – 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 U.S. 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 and required the government to resume enriching uranium to 20% if European nations fail to provide relief from crippling U.S. 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 that and considers it harmful for the trend of diplomatic activities.” He implied the lawmakers 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 program. Rather, it 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.

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 “structured program” ended in 2003. The U.S. 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 program is entirely peaceful.

The U.S. 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 U.S. 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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