New Iran Law Accelerating Enrichment

On December 1, Iran’s parliament, which is dominated by conservatives and hardliners, passed a bill requiring the government to take two steps: First, resume enriching uranium to 20 percent immediately. And second, to produce 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent annually. Since July 2019, Iran had been enriching to about 4.5 percent, slightly more than the 3.67 percent limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal. Uranium must be enriched to 90 percent or above to fuel a weapon. The bill also called for restricting U.N. nuclear inspectors, if sanctions on Iran's banking and oil sectors were not lifted within a month.

On December 2, President Hassan Rouhani said that he opposed the bill because it could harm diplomatic efforts to lift U.S. sanctions on Iran. “The government does not agree with that resolution and considers it detrimental to the process of diplomatic activities,” he said. But the Guardian Council - a panel of 12 Islamic jurists and scholars that approves or vetoes all laws by the parliament – passed a modified version of the law. The Council extended the deadline to lift oil and banking sanctions from one to two months. The resolution demanded that the government begin enriching uranium up to 20 percent immediately.

On December 3, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pledged that the Rouhani government would implement the legislation even though it lobbied to prevent its passage. Iran would not carry out additional breaches of its obligations, he added, if the United States and Europe came back into compliance. “The remedy is very easy,” he said. “Go back to full compliance, normalize Iran's economic relations with the rest of the world, stop making new conditions, stop making outrageous demands.” 

Britain, France and Germany warned Iran against accelerating its nuclear program. “If Iran is serious about preserving a space for diplomacy, it must not implement these steps,” they said in a joint statement. The European powers were also referring to Iran's plan to install an additional three cascades of advanced centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant in Natanz. The United States condemned the new law. It is “nothing more than the regime’s latest ploy to use its nuclear program to try to intimidate the international community,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. The following is a translation of the legislation and the reactions from countries party to the nuclear deal.


Strategic Action Plan to Lift Sanctions and Protect Iranian Nation’s Interests

Article 1: In order to meet the Supreme Leader’s nine conditions regarding the nuclear agreement, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran is charged with producing 20 percent enriched uranium and stockpiling at least 120 kilograms of it in the country annually for peaceful purposes, immediately after the ratification of this law. The Organization is also charged with fulfilling the country’s need for uranium enriched above 20 percent for peaceful purposes, in full and without delay.

Article 2: To implement Article 3 of the Proportional and Reciprocal Action Plan for the Implementation of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), approved in 2015, and reach 190,000 separative work units (SWUs) enrichment capacity, immediately after the ratification of this law, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran is obliged to increase enrichment capacity and production of enriched uranium to at least 500 kilograms per month, a level commensurate with peaceful uses in the country. It is also obliged to store and stockpile enriched materials in the country. 

Article 3: To achieve the goal set forth in Article 2, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran is obliged to start installing, injecting (uranium) gas, enriching and storing materials up to the required enrichment level, with at least 1,000 second generation advanced machines (IR-2m), within three months after the ratification of this law. During this period, it is also obliged to start enrichment, research and development with sixth generation (IR-6) machines), with at least 164 machines of this type, increasing this to 1,000 machines within one year after the ratification of this law. 

Note: The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran is obliged to implement the standards of the Passive Defense Organization when determining the installation location of the aforementioned machines.

Article 4: The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran is obliged to launch the metal uranium production factory in Isfahan within five months of the ratification of this law.

Article 5: In accordance with Article 4 of the Proportional and Reciprocal Action Plan for the Implementation of the JCPOA, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran is obliged to design a new 40 MW (megawatt) heavy water reactor with the goal of producing radioisotopes used in hospitals, while simultaneously optimizing and initiating the Arak 40 MW heavy water reactor. It will inform Parliament of the timetable within one month after the ratification of this law. 

Article 6: In the event that the contracting parties, including the P4+1 countries (Germany, France, Great Britain, China and Russia), fail to fulfill their commitments under the nuclear agreement with Iran – and fail to normalize banking relations, completely remove export barriers, allow complete sale of Iranian oil and petroleum products, and complete and rapid return of foreign exchange [to Iran] from the proceeds of the [oil] sales – the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is charged with suspending inspections beyond the Safeguards Agreement, including voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol, two months after the ratification of this law.

*A footnote clarifies that “government” includes the executive branch, cabinet, and all relevant executive bodies.

Article 7: If the P4+1 countries commit to fulfill their obligations and completely lift sanctions, including nuclear, military and human rights [sanctions] against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the government is charged with submitting a detailed report of the actions to Parliament. The National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, as well as the Energy Commission of Parliament, will submit their assessments to Parliament in accordance with Chapter 7, Article 45 of the Rules of Procedure of the Islamic Consultative Assembly.

Article 8: The president, relevant officials and managers, and relevant administrative bodies are responsible for the correct and complete implementation of this law.

Article 9: Those who refuse to implement this law will be penalized for a second-to a fifth-degree felony in proportion to how they refuse to implement the law or obstruct its implementation, according to the Islamic Penal Code approved in 2013.


Responses from Countries Party to the 2015 Nuclear Deal

E3 (Britain, France and Germany) in a statement on Dec. 7, 2020

“We, the governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom have worked tirelessly to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA). It is a key achievement of multilateral diplomacy and the global non-proliferation architecture. We negotiated the JCPoA with the conviction that it would decisively contribute to building confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, as well as to international peace and security. It remains the best, and currently the only, way to monitor and constrain Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Iran’s recent announcement to the IAEA that it intends to install an additional three cascades of advanced centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant in Natanz is contrary to the JCPoA and deeply worrying.

“Furthermore, we have taken note, with great concern, of the recent law passed by the Iranian Parliament, which – if implemented – would substantially expand Iran’s nuclear programme and limit IAEA monitoring access. The measures would be incompatible with the JCPoA and Iran’s wider nuclear commitments.

“If Iran is serious about preserving a space for diplomacy, it must not implement these steps. Such a move would jeopardise our shared efforts to preserve the JCPoA and risks compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US Administration. A return to the JCPoA would also be beneficial for Iran.

“We will address Iran’s non-compliance within the framework of the JCPoA. We welcome the statements by President-elect Biden on the JCPoA and a diplomatic path to address wider concerns with Iran. This is in all our interests.”


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement on on Dec. 11, 2020

“The United States condemns the law recently approved by Iran’s Majles and Guardian Council, which is nothing more than the regime’s latest ploy to use its nuclear program to try to intimidate the international community.  If implemented, this law would result in Iran enriching uranium to the dangerous 20% level, while Iran is already exceeding the JCPOA’s limits on enrichment levels – as well as expanding its uranium stockpile and researching, producing, and installing advanced centrifuges.  Iran has provided no credible technical rationale for why it needs to move precipitously to enrich uranium to that level for any peaceful purpose.

“The law would also obligate the Iranian government to reduce its already unacceptable levels of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran has for nearly two years stonewalled IAEA efforts to resolve questions about possible undeclared nuclear materials and activities in Iran, leading the IAEA Board to demand in June 2020 that Iran fully implement its Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement and obligations under the Additional Protocol. A reduction in Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA or enrichment to the 20% level would constitute a serious escalation that moves Iran closer to the ability to obtain a nuclear weapon.

“The international community must not reward the regime’s dangerous gamesmanship with economic appeasement.  If the Iranian regime seeks sanctions relief and economic opportunity, then it must first demonstrate that it is serious about fundamentally changing its behavior by ceasing its nuclear extortion and negotiating a comprehensive deal that addresses its development of ballistic missiles and its support for terrorism, unjust detention, and other destabilizing activities in the region.  The international community has been clear that Iran must begin to fully cooperate with the IAEA without further delay.  Failure to do so should not be met with concessions from the international community, but rather with continued diplomatic and economic pressure and isolation of the Iranian regime.”


Ashley Lane, a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson Center, translated the legislation.