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Iran's Government Delays Implementation Of Law Ordering A Ramping Up Of Nuclear Program

Iran-- President Hassan Rouhani speaks in the meeting of "Principle Rights and Rights of Citizens" on Monday, December 21, 2020.

The Iranian government has delayed implementing parliament’s controversial legislation that ordered an immediate ramping up of the country’s uranium-enrichment program.

Iran’s President Hassan Rohani had opposed the bill, saying it was detrimental to diplomatic efforts, while the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said in a recent interview that the bill did not designate funds to implement the law, which calls on the government to enrich uranium at 20 percent immediately.

“Where is the money for [implementing it]? Where should the [money] come from?” Salehi said on December 21.

On December 28, Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri announced the adoption of a bylaw for the implementation of the parliament’s legislation that was sent to relevant bodies. The legislation was adopted by parliament on December 1 and quickly approved by the powerful Guardians Council.

The bylaw says Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, which is in charge of the country’s nuclear activities, will have two months to prepare a report on the technical and financial requirements for enriching uranium at 20 percent as ordered by the hard-line-dominated parliament, which passed the legislation following the assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

"With the allocation of funds and technical requirement, the [Atomic Energy] Organization will take necessary measures for enrichment for peaceful purposes," the bylaw says, according to the official government news agency IRNA.

Experts had warned that the legislation, which could potentially reduce the time Iran needs to produce a nuclear weapon, complicates diplomacy for the upcoming White House.

"Enriching to near 20 percent would accelerate the crisis because by that stage, nine-tenths of the enrichment work required to reach weapons grade [is done]. And while there is a civilian use, Iran has no rational need to produce 20 percent-enriched uranium for any reason other than to try to gain negotiation leverage," former U.S. diplomat Mark Fitzpatrick told RFE/RL earlier this month.

U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally exited the United States from the accord in 2018 and reimposed tough sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. In response, Tehran has gradually reduced its commitments under the accord.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal if Tehran returns to full compliance.

Lawmakers, including Parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, have yet to react to the government’s delaying tactic, which provides Rohani and his team more time to reach an agreement with the incoming U.S. administration.

Some analysts have suggested that Iran could use the parliament's law to gain leverage in future talks with the U.S.