The Islamic Republic of Iran passed a bill urging the nation's president, Hassan Rohani, to put an end to the international nuclear inspections conducted by the United Nations unless the United States removes the sanctions it imposed on the Persian country for breaches of the nuclear pact (JCPOA) sealed in 2015 together with other powers such as France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and China.
This warning gives President-elect Joe Biden's new US administration a few weeks to conduct diplomatic negotiations to put an end to the dispute with Iran.
The new legislation also states that the Persian country will take immediate steps to begin producing 20 percent enriched uranium for peaceful purposes and will increase its stock of fissile material, which could reduce the time Iran needs to prepare to obtain a nuclear weapon.
The powerful Guardian Council, a political and legal body made up of high-ranking clerics and academics, ratified the bill on Wednesday and made it a legal requirement, while extending the deadline for easing the sanctions to two months instead of one, according to Iranian state television.
The bill clarifies that, if the United States does not remove sanctions on Iran's credit industry, exports of oil and oil products and deposits abroad within two months, Parliament will suspend a voluntary agreement the country has with United Nations inspectors allowing them access to nuclear sites.
The nuclear agreement imposed strict limits of 3.67% on the purity level of enriched uranium allowed to Iran, but abandoned the limit after Trump withdrew from the agreement and other partners were unable to offer the promised relief from sanctions. About 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium must be purified to 90 percent to produce the 15-22 kilograms of uranium grade needed by an expert to make a bomb.
Iran's stock of low-enriched uranium increased to about 2,443 kilograms from 2,105 kilograms in the third quarter of this year, according to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is not clear whether the government can challenge or appeal the decision of the Guardian Council or whether the so-called Additional Protocol, which Iran signed with the IAEA along with the 2015 nuclear agreement, can be legally suspended only by lawmakers.
Meanwhile, the US president-elect, Joe Biden, has pledged to put an end to the economic offensive of Donald Trump's outgoing government against the regime of the ayatollahs
This new tough stance comes after Iran accused Israel and the US of killing Mohsen Fajrizadeh, a leading nuclear scientist, last week. He was identified by the intelligence services as the director of the Iranian nuclear programme aimed at the weapons field. In fact, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry claimed to have "identified the relevant persons" involved in the assassination, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
Joe Biden has said he wants to re-establish the nuclear agreement, while Trump has accelerated his efforts to destroy it before leaving the White House on 20 January.
Early Wednesday morning, Rohaní rejected and criticised the new law enacted. "Of course, the government does not agree with that ruling and considers it detrimental to diplomatic efforts," Rohaní said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, according to the Islamic Republic's state news agency.
On Tuesday, the IAEA downplayed the bill as an internal matter that has no bearing on cooperation between Iran and the agency.
Increasing tensions over Iran's nuclear programme and incidents such as the assassination of Fajrizadeh could complicate the efforts of Biden, who has pledged to end Trump's economic offensive against Tehran and re-engage diplomatically.
The diplomatic disputes between the US and Iran in the context of the confrontation that has been going on for many years now are continuing. The new high point of this festering conflict occurred in 2018, when the Trump administration abandoned the nuclear pact signed with the Iranian state and with France, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Russia and the European Union in 2015, which put an end to the Persian atomic programme, particularly in relation to weapons; it then imposed economic and political sanctions on Teheran, including those related to the oil trade, Iran's main source of financing.
Hassan Rohani responded forcefully at the time by threatening to continue trading in his crude oil and to blockade the Strait of Ormuz, the main passage area for world oil trade. Warnings were followed by incidents involving cargo ships in Gulf waters and attacks on oil and airport interests in Saudi Arabia (Iran's major rival in the Middle East and the main symbol of the Sunni branch of Islam, as opposed to the Shia represented by the Iranians in a struggle for regional domination).
The international community in general and almost the entire Arab community (with exceptions such as Qatar) in particular pointed the finger at the theocratic regime and pro-Iranian agents for being behind these offensives. This was denied by the Persian authorities, even though Iran's interference in the internal affairs of neighbouring nations through the Quds Forces, an international division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (an elite corps of the Iranian army), is well known; with the collaboration of Shiite groups linked to Iran and deployed in nations such as Iraq (People's Mobilisation Forces), Lebanon (Hamas), Yemen (Hutu militias) and Syria (Liwa Fatemiyoun armed group).
The ayatollahs' regime ended up reducing part of its atomic commitments following the sanctions it received, and the rest of the JCPOA signatories urged that the nuclear agreement be saved despite the US's departure. In fact, the INSTEX mechanism was set up to be able to supply medical material to Iran in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, in this case through operations that avoided transactions in dollars, thereby avoiding violation of the economic sanctions decreed by the United States.