By Hassan Jafari
December 4, 2020
When Joe Biden was elected as the 46th president of the United States on November 3, it sent reverberations throughout Iran’s political establishment, including a fresh push for Iran to abandon the full set of commitments it had promised when the country signed up to the nuclear deal in 2015. These tensions finally reached a head on Wednesday, December 3, when the Guardian Council approved a law to increase Iran’s nuclear activities and reduce international oversight. The law clearly threatens to suspend the implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Additional Protocol if Iran’s economic demands are not met. So what does the law say? How serious are the threats stipulated in the law? What will it mean for Iran and Iranians in the coming months? And how has this new law seen outside of Iran?
Wednesday, December 2, was a busy day for news and politics in the Islamic Republic. Iran’s new nuclear law was approved. Disputes between the president and the speaker of the parliament became more obvious than ever. The value of Iran’s national currency fell once again.
President Hassan Rouhani and Speaker of the House Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf continue to butt heads, with their disputes becoming more entrenched into the fabric of Iranian politics. Various members of parliament joined Ghalibaf in criticizing and cursing Rouhani on Wednesday, and they mocked the way he handled the newly-proposed bill in the house. Some of them even issued threats:”You will not die from coronavirus.”
The new law to boost nuclear enrichment production fueled tensions and attracted significant attention, but so did the details of the budget bill.
In Western countries, the new nuclear law has prompted a raft of questions, chief among them: How serious is the new threat? Is this a bluff? Or is it the Islamic Republic’s ace in the hole?
What Does the New Law Say?
The law, the Strategic Action to Lift Sanctions and Protect the Interests of the Iranian Nation, was approved on Wednesday, December 2. It obliges the government to take three immediate steps:
– resume production of enriched uranium at a purity of 20 percent to a level of 120 kg per year
– Increasing reserves of enriched uranium at other enrichment degrees or purity by 500 kg per month
– Immediate supply of uranium enriched with more than 20 percent purity for peaceful purposes
The law requires the government to take the following action in the coming months if its conditions are not met:
– Installation and commissioning of advanced centrifuges
– Operation of metal uranium production plant in Isfahan to get underway
– Design of a new heavy water reactor
– Suspension of extra nuclear monitoring, including the implementation of the Additional Protocol.
The Sticking Point
Initially, the Guardian Council objected to parliament’s final decision on the nuclear program. According to Abbas Ali Kadkhodai, spokesperson for the Guardian Council, the opposition focused on Article 6, but after parliamentarians amended it, the body finally approved the law.
Kadkhodai did not elaborate on what the objections were, but a comparison of the original version of Article 6 with how it appears in the approved law indicates one important change. The original text stated that if banking and economic restrictions imposed by sanctions were not lifted, the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol, which allows for the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect sites at short notice, would be suspended one month after the law came into force.
This “one month” has since been changed to “two months” in the final law.
The timing is not coincidental. President-elect Joe Biden will be in the White House from January 20, about 48 days from now.
A Decision Outside Parliament
The initial law, from the early stages of its drafting on November 3, was ambiguous and informally written, shying away from the legal language usually found in legislation. The law as of December 2, when it became law following the approval of the Guardian Council, retains some of these ambiguities, and can be interpreted in a range of possible ways.
The legislation has considerable functions beyond the of the courtroom. It’s a valuable weapon for future negotiations with the West; it puts the government of Hassan Rouhani in a difficult position and makes it difficult for him to allow for concessions; and it creates a fertile ground for domestic competition.
The sense of putting “an ace in the hole” goes beyond parliament and no doubt has resonance throughout other political spheres and sectors within the Islamic Republic. In the meantime, the ignorance of the Rouhani administration has also been staggering: a review of the speeches of several Rouhani government officials even an hour before the final approval of the law shows how unaware they were of the behind-the-scene agreements between parliamentarians, Guardian Council members, and elements in the Supreme National Security Council.
According to BBC Persian, a day after the Ghalibaf notified Rouhani of parliament’s decision to suspend the implementation of the Additional Protocol voluntarily, Rouhani told government officials, “Do not get excited. Let us do our job.”
“Let those of us with 20 years of experience and those who are successful in diplomacy and repeatedly defeat the United States at the United Nations try to resolve the matter” Rouhani said, He called for government agencies to engage in “consultation and consensus,” urging them to help do their job of governing the country with care and consistency.
Metallic Uranium, Meaningful Figures, Clock Ticking
Few Western analysts and media have reacted with serious concern to Iran’s new nuclear law. Those who know Iran have seen the law in the context of parliament’s actual position within the Islamic Republic, and they do not see it any more than an ineffective” playing card for use in political games.