Iranian MPs seek hardening of nuclear stance after scientist killed

DUBAI (Reuters) -A bill requiring Iran’s government to suspend nuclear inspections unless sanctions are lifted, and ignore other restraints on its nuclear programme agreed with major powers, was passed by the hardline-led parliament on Tuesday.

But the government promptly said the move, proposed in response to the assassination of a top nuclear scientist on Friday, could not change Iran’s nuclear policy, which was the province of the Supreme National Security Council.

“Death to America! Death to Israel!” lawmakers chanted after passing a draft of the bill in a session broadcast live on state radio.

Lawmakers later passed the full bill, including a provision requiring the government to suspend United Nations nuclear inspections if Western powers which are still part of the 2015 nuclear accords, as well as China and Russia, do no re-establish Iran’s access to world banking and oil markets within a month.

Parliament has often demanded a hardening of Iran’s position on the nuclear issue in recent years, without much success.

In this case, the government must decide whether a sharp response to Friday’s killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh might jeopardise the prospect of an improvement in ties with the United States once Joe Biden takes over from Donald Trump as president.

“The government believes that, under the constitution, the nuclear accord and the nuclear programme... are under the jurisdiction of the Supreme National Security Council... and parliament cannot deal with this by itself,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters, according to state media.

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A senior Iranian official said on Monday that Tehran suspected a foreign-based opposition group of complicity with Israel in the killing of Fakhrizadeh, whom Western powers see as the architect of an abandoned Iranian nuclear weapons programme. The group rejected the accusation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment on the killing. Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi said on Saturday he did not know who had carried it out.

The bill, which still needs to be endorsed by a clerical body to become law, also called for Iran to enrich uranium “for peaceful uses” to 20% purity in breach of the nuclear accord.Iran has already breached the limits set in its deal with world powers, which scrapped sanctions in return for curbs to Tehran’s nuclear programme, to protest at Trump’s withdrawal from the accord and the reimposition of sanctions.

The maximum fissile purity to which it has enriched uranium has remained around 4.5%, above the deal’s 3.67% cap but below the 20% Iran had achieved before, and below the 90% purity that is considered weapons-grade.

Biden has said he will return the United States to the 2015 deal if Iran resumes compliance. Iran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey, William Maclean