Iran Parliament to Examine Bill on Nuclear Program Resumption

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Published Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Iran's parliament agreed on Tuesday to examine a bill asking the government to resume all its nuclear activities in the event of fresh US sanctions, local media reported.

Under an interim deal struck in 2013, Iran froze its uranium enrichment in exchange for limited sanctions relief. But two deadlines to reach a comprehensive agreement have been missed.

The draft law, supported by 220 of 290 lawmakers, said that, in the event of new US sanctions, "Iran is obliged to immediately annul the interim Geneva agreement and take a series of measures to exercise the nation's nuclear rights."

It also stipulated that Iran would resume enrichment and accelerate construction of its Arak heavy water reactor.

Media did not say when the text might be submitted to a parliamentary vote.

Meanwhile, IRNA state news agency reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif stressed that a nuclear agreement is accessible if the international community completely lifts sanctions on Iran and if the final agreement declares that Iran’s nuclear activities are peaceful.

“We have this technology and no one can take it from us, because our scientists have been able to achieve this knowledge,” Zarif said in a news conference in the capital of Uganda.

Last week the US Senate Banking Committee approved a measure that would ratchet up sanctions on Iran in the event of the talks hitting an impasse.

It would gradually impose sanctions against Iran if, by July 1, no final deal is reached in the talks under way between Tehran and the P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany.

Among issues complicating negotiations are hardliners in Washington and Tehran who appear willing to torpedo the efforts.

The new Republican-controlled US Congress is considering a fresh sanctions bill, despite strong opposition from President Barack Obama, who has threatened to veto any such legislation.

On January 20, Obama warned Congress that any move to impose new sanctions on Iran could scupper delicate negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

"New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails," Obama said in his State of the Union address to the Republican-controlled Congress.

On January 22, top European diplomats appealed for US lawmakers to hold off on the threatened new sanctions, pleading for time to allow the nuclear talks to succeed.

Iran’s nuclear program

Iran began its nuclear program in the 1950s, under the rule of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi. At the time, the United States was the main technology and capability provider for Iran's nuclear research reactor and power plants.

During the 1970s, Iran signed agreements with Western bloc countries, including the US, France and West Germany, for Iranian engineers training and constructing reactors.

After the 1979 revolution, Western countries’ stances changed and Iran sought technical support from Russia, Pakistan and North Korea to develop its nuclear program.

Since then, Western nations fear Iran's nuclear program may be aimed at developing its nuclear weapons capability. In 1996, the United States announced the first sanctions on Iran due to this concern.

Iran denies it is seeking a bomb and says its nuclear program is solely aimed at producing atomic energy to reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels, requiring a massive increase in its ability to enrich uranium.

Disputes about Iran's nuclear program reached its climax in 2002 when the satellite photos of an Iranian uranium enrichment and a heavy water plant were published in Western media.

In response to growing international concern about its atomic plans, Iran accepted inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and one year later suspended its uranium enrichment process.

Finally in 2003, the EU-3 group — Germany, France and the UK — signed an agreement known as Tehran Deceleration, after rounds of talks with the Iranian negotiating team . According to the deceleration, Iran expanded cooperation with IAEA and signed the IAEA Additional Protocol.

One year later, the negotiations went back to square one. Iran restarted its uranium enrichment as the international community had not eased sanctions. Afterward, the negotiations halted for five years because neither side accepted the other party’s proposals.

During these years new sets of sanctions were imposed on Iran. Besides the unilateral EU and US sanctions, which paralyzed Iran’s economy, UN passed eight resolutions that slapped tough sanctions on Iran.

Few areas of Iran's economy have remained untouched by the sanctions. The sanctions have severely curbed Iran's oil trade as well as the import and export of natural gas, and have also affected the country’s banking sector.

Tightening international sanctions against Iran pushed up inflation and further eroded the country's currency. Since 2011, The official inflation rate has jumped from single digits to around 20 percent; analysts think the real rate is higher. Iran's currency has also reportedly lost 80 percent of its value since the end of 2011.

Another round of talks between Iran and the European Union started in December 2009 but ended without any result in January 2011 as the EU called the discussions disappointing.

The current negotiations between Iran and P5+1 began in 2013 and in February 2014, the two sides reached an interim agreement, officially titled the Joint Plan of Action.

According to the agreement, Iran suspended its most sensitive nuclear activity, which was 20 percent uranium enrichment. Western countries in turn eased some economic sanctions as both parties continued working on a long-term agreement.

In November, the two sides failed for a second time to meet a self-imposed deadline for ending the standoff and the preliminary accord was extended until June 30, 2015.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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