Iran’s parliament demands construction of heavy water reactor

In defiance of international sanctions on nuclear program and amid European criticism, bill also calls for operating metal uranium production plant

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIESToday, 10:07 am  1Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the nuclear site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran’s parliament on Tuesday passed a bill requiring the country’s atomic agency to build a new heavy water reactor and operate a metal uranium production plant as part of efforts to challenge international sanctions on its nuclear program, state media reported.

The parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission spokesman, Abolfazl Amouei, was quoted by various Iranian news outlets as saying the bill was officially called “Strategic Action to Lift Sanctions.”

He said the law requires the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to redesign and optimize a new 40-megawatt heavy water reactor in Arak within four months.

Since US President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers and began imposing crushing economic sanctions on Tehran, the Islamic Republic has retaliated by producing more and more highly enriched fissile material in violation of the agreement, getting closer and closer to a bomb, while still leaving room for a return to negotiations.

The UN’s atomic watchdog agency said earlier this month that Iran continues to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium far beyond the limits set in the accord and to enrich it to a greater purity than permitted.

German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Andrea Sasse said this week that Iran was systematically violating the accord, ahead of a meeting between the German, French and British foreign ministers on the matters.

In this November 10, 2020 photo, US President-elect Joe Biden at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

US President-elect Joe Biden has said he hopes to return the US to the accord, under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Biden has argued that Trump’s withdrawal from the deal signaled to American allies that the US could not be trusted to stick to agreements and that while the accord may not have been perfect, it had been effective at blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.

Taking a step back from the brink, Iran’s foreign minister said last week that Tehran was willing to return to the deal if Biden lifts sanctions on Iran after entering the White House.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against reengaging with Iran on the nuclear deal, saying, “There can be no going back to the previous nuclear agreement. We must stick to an uncompromising policy of ensuring that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons.”

His comments echoed his bitter opposition to the deal when it was being negotiated by the Obama administration, and contrast starkly with Biden’s pledge to “rejoin” the accord.

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