Iranian lawmakers OK uranium enrichment

/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran’s parliament unanimously approved the outline of a bill Sunday that would require the government to resume uranium enrichment, legislation likely to deepen an international dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities.

Separately, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said there was a 50 percent chance of a nuclear compromise with European nations, though he ruled out an indefinite suspension of key enrichment activities.

Shouts of “Death to America!” rang out in the conservative-dominated parliament after lawmakers voted to advance the nation’s nuclear program, an issue of national pride that provides a rare point of agreement between conservatives and reformers.

Washington has pushed hard for Iran to drop its nuclear program, which Tehran maintains is for peaceful energy purposes. The U.N. nuclear watchdog is also pushing for Iran to halt its activities.

The United States, which has secured some support from European nations, accuses Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons.

Iran: A message to the world
Parliament speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel called Sunday’s vote a message to the world.

“The message of the absolute vote for the Iranian nation is that the parliament supports national interests,” he said. “And the message for the outside world is that the parliament won’t give in to coercion.”

A date for discussing details of the legislation was not immediately set.

Lawmaker Hossein Afarideh said that under the bill, the government would be required to resume enrichment of uranium — injecting gas into centrifuges, a measure Iran is not doing now.

The legislation, a copy of which was made available to The Associated Press, said “the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is required to make use of scientists and the country’s facilities ... in order to enable the country to master peaceful nuclear technology, including the cycle of nuclear fuel.”

Uranium enriched to a low level can be used to produce nuclear fuel. If enriched further it can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Another vote is expected on the bill when details are worked out, but that is usually a formality.

Growing international pressure
Iran is not prohibited from enriching uranium under its obligations to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but faces growing international pressure to suspend such activities as a good-faith gesture.

Iran last year suspended actual uranium enrichment, but it repeatedly has rejected a long-term suspension of all uranium enrichment-related activities, which the international community is seeking. Iranian nuclear negotiators have been meeting with officials from Britain, France and Germany, but a second round of talks ended last week without agreement.

At the talks in Austria, the three European powers offered Iran a trade deal and peaceful nuclear technology in return for assurances the country will stop enrichment indefinitely.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, in an AP interview Sunday, said the chance of a nuclear compromise is about 50 percent.

“I see the chance of a compromise before November as 50-50,” Hossein Mousavian said. “We have rejected two possibilities: cessation and unlimited suspension. We told the Europeans if your target is cessation, it will be impossible. But we are flexible if your proposal is balanced.”

Washington has called for the U.N. Security Council to study Iran’s situation for possible economic sanctions if Tehran doesn’t give up all enrichment activities before a Nov. 25 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency.