TEHRAN -- The Iranian regime passed a law Wednesday (December 2) ordering an immediate increase of its enrichment of uranium to levels closer to weapons-grade fuel and the expulsion of international nuclear inspectors if the international community does not lift sanctions on the regime by early February.
The bill calls on the government to end United Nations (UN) inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities and to "produce and store 120kg per year of uranium enriched to 20%".
Such steps run counter to commitments made by the Iranian regime as part of a landmark nuclear agreement with world powers in 2015.
The 2015 deal offers Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme and UN-verified safeguards to prove it is not developing nuclear weapons.
In its latest report last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the Iranian stockpile of enriched uranium stands at more than 12 times the 3.67% limit set out in the 2015 accord.
Still, Tehran has not exceeded the threshold of 4.5% and the country is complying with its strict inspection regime, the UN's nuclear watchdog said.
The Iranian regime has nothing to gain from ending inspections of its nuclear facilities, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in an interview with AFP on Monday (November 30).
"We understand the distress, but at the same time, it is clear that no one, starting with Iran, would have anything to win from a decrease, limitation or interruption of the work we do together with them," he said.
President Hassan Rouhani, whose government negotiated the 2015 nuclear accord, called the legislation counterproductive.
It is not the first time Rouhani has publicly denounced the country's hardliners in favour of a more moderate approach.
"The government does not agree with this legislation and considers it damaging for diplomacy," he said December 2 before the measure's ratification.
The measure was meant to send the West a message after last week's assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the top Iranian nuclear scientist, said the speaker of the country's parliament, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Supporters of the bill said they wanted to achieve the objectives of the "martyred" scientist.
Parliament, dominated by conservatives, initially passed the law in an angry session on Tuesday (December 1), and the law was ratified December 2 by the Guardian Council, an appointed body that oversees the elected government.
It is not clear if the fast-tracking of the new law is the extent of Tehran's response to the killing of Fakhrizadeh.
A former member of the IRGC, Fakhrizadeh was deputy defence minister, head of the ministry's Organisation of Defensive Innovation and Research, and a founder of Iran's nuclear programme.
He was assassinated outside Tehran on November 27 in a bomb and gun attack.
His assassination -- added to the killings of other Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years, several explosions at sensitive military bases, and the recent theft of sensitive nuclear and missile programme documents from a nuclear facility in Iran -- has prompted a deluge of criticism of Iranian intelligence capabilities.
The criticism especially comes from Iranian hardliners, who say that Fakhrizadeh was known to be a target. They pointed out that his car was was not bullet-proof, an indication of what they describe as intentionally weak security.
There also is speculation that the assassination may have been an inside job.
One theory is that a group of Iranian hardliners who are against any negotiations with the United States may have been motivated to assassinate Fakhrizadeh as a pretext to distance Iran from its commitments to the IAEA and to obstruct potential negotiations.
No group or government has assumed responsibility for the assassination, but Tehran has blamed its usual foes: Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran, a political-militant organisation that advocates overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership and installing its own government.
The Iranian regime is also faced with a tail-spinning economy and a disaffected domestic population that appears increasingly willing to take action into its own hands.
Rolling back commitments
The regime has been gradually rolling back most of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal and has been breaking the limits on its nuclear activity since May 2019.
Tehran has always denied it is seeking nuclear weaponry, but its blatant refusal to stop its pursuit of further uranium enrichment has spurred worldwide condemnation.
The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany accused Tehran of progressively scaling back its commitments under the pact and defying key restrictions on its nuclear programme.
As well as breaching limits on the stockpile amount and enrichment level of uranium laid down in the 2015 deal, the Iranian regime has been using more advanced centrifuges than permitted under the deal.
The Iranian regime in January 2020 already said it would abandon its nuclear commitments and the stated "limit on the number of centrifuges".
Last month, the IAEA said Tehran's explanations of the presence of nuclear material at an undeclared site in the country were "not technically credible".