Nearly 100 hard-line members of Iran’s parliament declared their support for a new bill this week requiring the government to enrich uranium to near bomb-grade levels in what some say is a direct response to a group of U.S. senators pushing legislation that would add additional sanctions on Iran.
The nuclear deal reached in Geneva last month says that Iran must cease its enrichment of higher grade uranium while the P5+1 — the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany — committed to not issuing further nuclear related sanctions on Iran while the two sides negotiate a final deal.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that according to Iranian English-language reports, Iranian hardline lawmaker Mehdi Mousavinejad said the bill in Iran’s parliament, “if approved, will oblige the government to … enrich uranium to 60 percent level in order to provide fuel for submarine engines if the sanctions are tightened and Iran’s nuclear rights are ignored (by major powers).” The Los Angeles Times reports that the measure also requires the government to activate the heavy water reactor at Arak — which has been frozen as part of the Geneva agreement.
The group of U.S. senators, led by Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), introduced their own bill earlier this month calling for new sanctions on Iran in six months, a move that many argue could violate the Geneva deal and give the Iranians an argument that the world powers are reneging on the agreement.
“This draft bill has been prepared in reaction to America’s hostile measures,” Mousavinejad said. And while Iranian lawmakers floated this bill in response to the U.S. Treasury’s recent announcement of stricter enforcement of existing sanctions, a senior U.S. Senate aide told the L.A. Times that “last week the [Iranian] lawmakers began describing their bill as retaliation for the new U.S. sanctions bill.”
The Iranian news website also quoted a spokesperson for the Iran parliament’s National Security and Foreign Affairs committee saying the new bill is meant to give the Iranians the upper hand in negotiations — an argument frequently made by U.S. senators pushing more sanctions on Iran. “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,” he said.
The chairs of ten U.S. Senate committees, including Intelligence, Banking, Armed Services, Appropriations and Homeland Security, sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) last week urging him against taking up the Kirk/Menendez/Schumer measure. “We believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail,” they wrote.
Iran expert and former Obama administration Pentagon official Colin Kahl recently played out this tit-for-tat scenario between the American and Iranian legislators and asked: “How would U.S. lawmakers view such a move? Would they see it as consistent with the letter and spirit of Geneva? Would it enhance American support for diplomacy? Would the threatened Iranian escalation be helpful to Obama as he works to convince skeptics on Capitol Hill of the need to back continued negotiations and support future compromise? Or would it put the administration on the defensive, confirm the worst American suspicions about Iranian intentions, complicate diplomacy and make a confrontation over the nuclear program more likely?
“Were Tehran to pursue this course, the answers seem obvious,” he added. “And if the Senate moves forward with new sanctions now — just as talks with Iran are finally starting to bear fruit — the answers on the Iranian side will very likely be just as obvious.”
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi echoed a recent statement made by Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, warning that “no new sanctions will be accepted and any new sanctions will kill negotiations.”
“Since we have witnessed the lack of trust on the part of the other side in the past, we cannot be quite sure about their commitment,” he said.