Iran to further limit nuclear commitments: What’s next?

A look at legislation pushed through with extraordinary speed by hardline Iranian politicians this week.

Iran - Enrichment
United Nations inspectors and Iranian technicians cut connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium enrichment at Iran's Natanz facility in 2014 [Kazem Ghane/IRNA via AP]

Tehran, Iran – A bill aimed at further reducing Iran’s nuclear commitments proposed by conservatives and hardliners in the country’s parliament just cleared its last hurdle.

The Strategic Act to Revoke Sanctions was approved by the powerful 12-member vetting body Guardian Council with extraordinary speed on Wednesday despite government opposition.

Hours before the oversight body greenlit the legislation, President Hassan Rouhani said the bill would be “harmful” to diplomatic efforts aimed at restoring the embattled 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers.

Members of Rouhani’s moderate cabinet said the Supreme National Security Council is in charge of deciding Iran’s nuclear-related actions.

But members of parliament – furious with the Friday assassination of top nuclear and military scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and what they perceive as Iran’s lack of adequate response – charged ahead unfazed.

Earlier on Wednesday, United States President-elect Joe Biden said he is still committed to his promise of returning to the nuclear deal.

What is in the legislation?

The parliament’s bill wants to force the hand of the West to return to full compliance under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.

It aims to do this through a slew of measures, including putting a stop to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), increasing Iran’s enrichment of uranium, and revitalising the Fordow plant among others.

The following are the contents of the bill as published by ICANA, the official news outlet of the Iranian parliament:

IAEA inspections

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog conducts hundreds of unannounced inspections of Iranian nuclear sites each year.

Iranian lawmakers want to altogether stop those inspections if their requirements are not met.

Their bill says Germany, France, United Kingdom, China and Russia – minus the US that withdrew from the accord in 2018 – must work to normalise banking relations, lift sanctions on Iran’s oil and other exports, and immediately return revenues from the sales.

If they don’t do that in two months from the time the law is in effect, MPs agreed, the government is obligated to stop voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol, a document that gives IAEA broad inspection capabilities.

Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who said on Tuesday the legislation ends a “one-sided game”, officially communicated the approved bill to the president.

Rouhani could take a few weeks to actually implement the bill, but the timeline of JCPOA signatories to save the deal is now much more limited as President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran remains in place at least until January 20, 2021.

Uranium enrichment and stockpile

Also within two months of the legislation being implemented, the government is obligated to enrich at least 120kg of uranium at 20 percent purity in the Fordow plant near the city of Qom.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization will then be obligated to immediately increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by at least 500kg each month “for each of the country’s peaceful uses”.

At the moment, even after gradually scaling back nuclear commitments in response to the US reneging on the deal, Iran enriches uranium up to 4.5 percent.

That is higher than the 3.67 percent agreed upon as part of the nuclear accord, but much lower than the 90 percent that is considered weapons-grade enrichment.

Centrifuges, heavy water

Parliament’s bill also obligates the government to install and operationalise at least 1,000 IR-2M centrifuges in the Natanz underground nuclear facilities in three months.

The government must also begin enrichment at the Fordow plant with at least 164 advanced IR-6 centrifuges and boost their number to 1,000 one year after the law is implemented.

The country’s Atomic Energy Organization must operationalise a factory to produce ferrouranium, an alloy of iron and uranium, in Isfahan in five months.

It must also revitalise the Arak heavy water reactor, now being restructured as part of the nuclear deal, to conditions before the accord within four months.

That must be accompanied by efforts to build a new similar reactor with the same power to “produce hospital-use radioisotopes”.

The way back

The parliament’s bill envisions a path back to the nuclear deal on the condition that other signatories fully implement their commitments.

It obligates the government to file a detailed report of measures by other signatories two months after Iran scales back its commitments.

If they are deemed satisfactory, the government will propose a plan of action to return to the deal’s commitments, which the parliament will have one month to review.

Lastly, the parliament has considered punishments under the law if the government refuses to implement the contents of the bill.

Source: Al Jazeera