In the wake of the assassination of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on 27 November, the Iranian parliament (Islamic Consultative Assembly) on 29 November passed a bill authorising the revival of nuclear activities that had been limited under the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
MPs assigned a double-urgency status to the bill — "The Strategic Action Plan to Lift Sanctions" — and ratified it in a 232-14 vote. This followed a statement by a group of MPs calling for the revival of Iran's nuclear industry by halting the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol to Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and preventing inspections of Iranian nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The MPs had approved an urgent strategic motion on the bill on 2 November, but this became a double-urgency motion after the assassination.
Under the JCPOA between Iran the P5+1 group of countries (the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) Iran had agreed to limit its nuclear development programme in return for the lifting of sanctions. However, in May 2018, US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the JCPOA and reimposed stringent unilateral sanctions. Iran remained fully compliant with the JCPOA for a year, urging the co-signatories to fulfil their commitments by offsetting the impacts of the US sanctions. When the European parties failed to do so, Iran in May 2019 began to suspend its JCPOA commitments under Articles 26 and 36 of the deal.
Iran in January took the last of five step in reducing its JCPOA following the US killing of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad. These were:
- Increasing the enriched uranium stockpile to beyond the 300kg set by the JCPOA as well as stocks of heavy water;
- Enriching uranium beyond the JCPOA limit of 3.76%;
- Activating 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges for R&D purposes;
- Injecting gas into centrifuges at the Fordow plant (under IAEA supervision); and
- Removing the limit on the number of centrifuges in use.
Iranian officials have been open about the steps they have so far taken to reactivate their nuclear programme and the IAEA has closely monitored these developments. However, the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, which Iran attributes to Israel, has seriously exacerbated the situation, already inflamed by an explosion at the Natanz enrichment facility in July, also attributed to Israel.
The "Strategic Action Plan to Lift Sanctions”, now approved by parliament comprises nine articles:
1. The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) is obliged to produce and store at least 120kg of uranium with 20% enrichment annually at Fordow and store it inside the country within two months of the adoption of the law.
2. AEOI is obliged to enrich and produce enriched uranium at a level of enrichment commensurate with each of the peaceful uses required. It should increase the monthly amount by at least 500kg and take action to maintain and accumulate enriched uranium and to consume the specified volume.
3. To achieve this AEOI is obliged to install, inject gas, enrich and store materials to the appropriate degree of enrichment within three months, using at least 1000 IR-2m machines in the underground facility in Natanz. AEOI must transfer any enrichment and R&D operations using IR-6 centrifuges to Fordow during this period and start the enrichment operation with at least 164 machines of this type. This must be increased to 1000 machines by the end of 1399 (March 2021).
4. AEOI is obliged to operate a metal uranium production plant in Isfahan within five months of the adoption of the law.
5. AEOI must redesign and optimise the 40MW heavy water reactor in Arak, which is being modified under the JCPOA, within four months by reconfiguring the reactor core to its pre-JCPOA state. Simultaneously with the optimisation and commissioning of the Arak reactor, AEOI must design and build a new 40MW heavy water reactor to produce medical radioisotopes. The timetable for these activities must be notified to parliament within a month.
6. The government, in accordance with Articles 36 and 37 of the JCPOA, must suspend any foreign access and monitoring beyond the Additional Protocol within two months of the adoption of the law.
7. The government must to submit to parliament, with three months of the enactment of this law, a detailed report on the actions taken by the parties to fulfil their obligations under the UN Security Council to lift all sanctions against Iran. If, by that date Iran's banking relations in Europe and the amount of their oil purchases from Iran have not returned to normal and satisfactory conditions, the government must suspend its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol. If the parties opposed to the JCPOA have not fulfilled their obligations, the government must submit to parliament a proposal for reciprocal action by Iran.
8. If the P5 + 1 members taking action against Iran fulfil their obligations and lift nuclear, military, human rights, etc. sanctions, the government must report accurately the actions taken and propose reciprocal action.
9. Those who refuse to implement this law shall be sentenced in accordance with the Islamic Penal Code adopted in 2013.