January 9, 2014 | Policy Brief

Iran’s Majles Threatens 60% Enrichment After Obama Administration Enforces Sanctions

January 9, 2014 | Policy Brief

Iran’s Majles Threatens 60% Enrichment After Obama Administration Enforces Sanctions

Critics are taking aim at 51 U.S. Senators for proposing legislation that would impose additional sanctions on Iran if it violates the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), the “framework agreement” reached in Geneva on November 24 to halt Iran’s nuclear program. But the Iranian Parliament (Majles) has taken its own legislative steps, reportedly in response to the enforcement of existing sanctions by the Obama administration, that could preclude a comprehensive diplomatic outcome.

On Christmas Day 2013, Reuters reported that 100 Iranian parliamentarians put forth a bill designed to push the limit on Iran’s uranium enrichment. The Majles now proposes enrichment at 60 percent, which falls short of “weapons-grade” (90 percent or above) and is the level needed for nuclear submarines. There’s only one problem: Iran lacks submarine forces with that capacity.

In other words, the Majles is green lighting a provocation.

When the JPA was announced in late November, Secretary Kerry stated that Iran was slated “…to dilute or convert its entire stockpile of 20 percent…” Enrichment to 60 percent would clearly violate the JPA, which states Iran “will not enrich uranium over 5% for the duration of the 6 months.” In fact, according to technical experts, 60 percent enrichment can qualify as being “highly-enriched,” since it is over 20 percent.

Fars News reported that, “The bill was presented after Washington breached the recent Geneva deal between Iran and the world powers by blacklisting a dozen companies and individuals for evading US sanctions.”  This was in reference to a tranche of designated entities targeted by the U.S. Treasury Department on December 12, 2013 for helping Iran skirt sanctions.

American designation of these entities does not breach the JPA’s ban on the U.S. “imposing new nuclear-related sanctions” since they merely implement current sanctions. But that does not resonate in the Majles. The bill’s list of signatories has swelled from the original 100 to 218, and with some counts as high as 230 out of a possible 290.

Iran’s political apparatus appears to back the move. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who leads Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, claimed that the “Majles has the authority to oblige the government to carry out a task…” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said that the Parliament’s decision “…will be binding for us.”

Clerics even joined in, with Seyyed Mohammad Ali Ghazi Dezfuli asserting that, “60 percent enrichment is a message for the defeat of America against coercion and sanctions imposed on our country.” Hojjat-al Eslam val Moslemeen AbdulKarim Abedini noted that, “…60 percent enrichment means that pressure and sanctions against Iran cannot stop this technology.”

Whether all of this is simply bluster designed to appeal to domestic hardliners remains to be seen. The move will likely provide Iran with a leg up in future negotiations. Regardless, it is an unnecessary provocation that threatens implementation of the interim agreement, and only adds to Western concerns about Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is an Iran research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 


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