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25 Dec, 2013 19:22

Iranian MPs push urgent bill to increase uranium enrichment to 60%

Iranian MPs push urgent bill to increase uranium enrichment to 60%

Hardline Iranian lawmakers are seeking to increase the nation's uranium enrichment to 60 percent to “provide fuel for submarine engines.” The bill is expected to give Tehran an upper hand if the Geneva deal, which limits enrichment to 20 percent, fails.

Some 100 lawmakers have introduced the bill under a “double urgency status,” which means it may be debated in the Iranian parliament within a week, the official IRNA news agency reported.

If the bill is approved, it will oblige the government “to enrich uranium to 60 percent in order to provide fuel for submarine engines if the sanctions are tightened and Iran’s nuclear rights are ignored,” said hardline lawmaker Mehdi Mousainejad, according to Press TV.

The bill “is aimed at giving an upper hand to our government and the negotiating team. It will allow the government to continue our nuclear program if the Geneva deal fails,” said Hossein Taghavi Hosseini, a spokesman for parliament’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, accordingto IRNA.

Under the November 24 accord with the US, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and Iran, a period of six months was agreed to negotiate a final settlement to the decade-old disagreement over the nature of Iran’s nuclear program.

It was agreed that Iran would suspend its uranium enrichment at medium grade (20 percent) purity and give better access to UN inspection teams, in exchange for US$7 billion in sanctions relief. Talks are underway to secure a more permanent agreement.

A senior western diplomat in Tehran told Reuters that Iran’s parliament lacks power, and that hardline lawmakers no longer have the upper hand following President Hassan Rouhani’s election win.

“Iran’s Supreme Leader backs the [Geneva] deal and ultimately lawmakers have to follow his path,” the diplomat said.

Analysts believe Tehran could be using the draft bill as a bargaining tool in the ongoing talks - particularly after 26 US senators introduced legislation on December 19 which would install new sanctions on Iran in addition to those already in place.

The new legislation, which would require further reductions in Iran’s petrochemical industry and introduce new measures against engineering, mining, and construction firms, was put forward despite strong opposition from the Obama administration.

The White House said the new sanctions would undermine the global diplomatic effort and play into the hands of those elements in Iran which are most eager to see the negotiations fail.

But proponents of the new sanctions say they will not kick in for another year, and will act as a lever against Iran pursuing its nuclear interests. They also believe the sanctions will help secure a diplomatic deal.

Iran maintains that it has the right to enrich uranium for medical and research purposes, and insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. The United States and other western powers believe Tehran is trying to build an atomic bomb through uranium enrichment.