Iran moves ahead to end nuclear inspections

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Iran’s parliament promoted a bill, seeking among other measures to stop all the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections in Iran beyond the requirements of the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s (NPT) Additional Protocol…reports Asian Lite News

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that any restrictions on the international monitoring of the country’s nuclear program require the approval of “higher instances”.

“With regard to access (to Iran’s nuclear facilities), we will make sure that it remains within its defined and normal limits,” Xinhua news agency quoted Kamalvandi as saying in a statement on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, Iran’s parliament promoted a bill, seeking among other measures to stop all the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections in Iran beyond the requirements of the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s (NPT) Additional Protocol.

The bill was given “double-urgency” status after Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated on November 27, but Kamalvandi said that hostile attacks should not be generally linked to the IAEA inspections of Iranian facilities.

The spokesman did not specify which “instances” he was referring to, but every bill in Iran requires the ratification of the Guardian Council to become law, and according to the country’s Constitution, it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who “determines the overall policy” of the country, “after consultation with the Expediency Council”.

The vote to debate the bill, which would need to pas through several other stages before becoming law, was a show of defiance after the killing of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist last month.

The official IRNA news agency said 251 lawmakers in the 290-seat chamber voted in favor, after which many began chanting “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”, the Arab News reported.

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

The bill would have authorities resume enriching uranium to 20%, which is below the threshold needed for nuclear weapons but higher than that required for civilian applications. It would also commission new centrifuges at nuclear facilities at Natanz and the underground Fordo site, the Arab News reported.

The bill would require another parliamentary vote to pass, as well as approval by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog.

Iran nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

The bill was first tabled in parliament in August but gained new momentum after the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who 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. US intelligence agencies concurred with that assessment in a 2007 report.

Israel insists Iran still maintains the ambition of developing nuclear weapons, pointing to Tehran’s ballistic missile program and research into other technologies. Iran long has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Meantime, Iran President Hassan Rouhani has blamed Israel for the killing of a top nuclear scientist on Friday, and said it would not slow down the country’s nuclear programme.

Rouhani also said Iran would retaliate over Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s killing at a time of its choosing. An Israeli cabinet minister said he had “no clue” who was behind the ambush by gunmen on Fakhrizadeh’s car, the BBC reported on Saturday.

Israel has previously accused the physicist of being key to a covert nuclear weapons programme.

Fakhrizadeh was Iran’s most renowned nuclear scientist, who headed the ministry of defence’s research and innovation organisation.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

His killing threatens to escalate tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme with the US and its close ally Israel.

President Rouhani said on Saturday his country would respond “in due course” but that Fakhrizadeh’s killing would not push Iran into making hasty decisions.

“Iran’s enemies should know that the people of Iran and officials are braver than to leave this criminal act unanswered,” he said in a televised cabinet meeting.

“In due time, they will answer for this crime,” he added.

In an earlier statement, the president accused the “the mercenaries of the oppressive Zionist regime” – referring to Israel – of being behind the attack.

The assassination of martyr Fakhrizadeh shows our enemies’ despair and the depth of their hatred… His martyrdom will not slow down our achievements.”

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also called for the “punishing” of the perpetrators of the attack “and those who commanded it”, in a tweet on Saturday.

His military adviser, Hossein Dehghan, had earlier vowed to “strike” the attackers like thunder.