Iran agrees to increase uranium enrichment in response to the killing of Mohsen Fajrizadeh

The bill still needs second reading approval and the backing of an administrative body to become law
Atalayar_ Irán aprueba el aumento de enriquecimiento de uranio

PHOTO/ICANA  -   Iranian Parliament, at a session of the Islamic Consultative Assembly

The assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fajrizadeh, considered one of the "fathers" of the Iranian nuclear programme, has dealt the country a severe blow. The response of the executive has not been long in coming, as it blames Israel for the attack, and on Tuesday decided to increase spending on uranium.

The Iranian Parliament voted on Tuesday in favour of a bill that would impose restrictions on international inspections and increase uranium enrichment to 20%. This agreement means a further move away from the 2015 nuclear pact, from which the United States withdrew in 2018, and therefore re-imposed economic sanctions on the country.

The bill still needs approval on second reading and the backing of an administrative body to become law. But it is a full-blown declaration of intent, and the first response to the attack.

The official news agency IRNA confirms that 251 legislators out of 290 have voted in favour of the bill. 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. It would also put in place new centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility and the Fordo underground site.

The spokesman for the Iranian government, Ali Rabiei, stated this Tuesday that Iran currently stores over three tonnes of enriched uranium and enriches a further 250-300 kg every month.

Atalayar_ Portavoz del gobierno iraní, Ali Rabiei
PHOTO/AFP - Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei

"This volume is close to the country's production capacity before the signing of the Comprehensive Joint Action Plan (CJAP)", he said in response to a question about the volume of uranium stored in the country.

Iran has directly blamed Israel for the murder of Fakhrizadeh. And in this connection, Rabiei pointed out that "The terrorists will certainly not achieve their goals. Our nuclear and defence knowledge cannot be killed or reversed. Not only were our people unaffected by the psychological operations resulting from this crime, but, as their behaviour these days showed, they have become more intelligent and remain more united in the national interest and against the real enemies of our nation".

Israel, for its part, has not spoken out, and so far no one has claimed responsibility for the assassination.Iran began to publicly exceed the levels of uranium enrichment established by the nuclear agreement after the United States again imposed economic sanctions, which are suffocating the Iranian population. It is currently enriching a growing reserve of uranium of up to 4.5 percent purity.

Atalayar_ Reactor nuclear de agua Irán
AFP / HO / "IRAN ATOMIC ENERGY ORGANIZATION" - Arak nuclear water reactor south of the capital Tehran

The question now is: will this be Iran's only response to the murder of Mohsen Fajrizadeh? When US President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds forces, Iran called for revenge. But this was of little consequence and was furthermore tarnished by the shooting down of the Ukrainian plane by mistake.

This bill was tabled in parliament for the first time in August, but has gained fresh impetus following the assassination of Fajrizadeh. This statement sends a clear message to the international community, particularly to Israel and its partner in the region, the United States, but without leading to direct confrontation or an escalation of violence. It is likely that Iran is waiting for Mr Trump to leave the White House, as it views the new candidate as an abyss of hope and does not wish to hinder its relationship with Washington any further with only a few months to go before the change of administration.

Another possibility is that the Iranian president, Hassan Rohani, will be compromised by the more conservative ranks. In this case we could expect an attack on the United States' allies in the region, perhaps those countries that have normalised their relations with the American country in recent months such as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates... or simply an attack on key targets in Israel. There are many unknowns about the role Iran will play from now on, as the lifting of the economic restrictions that are suffocating the country's population is at stake and, together with the crisis triggered by the COVID-19, has led the country to an unsustainable situation.