- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

12:33 p.m.

TEHRAN — Iran’s parliament voted today to urge the government to “revise” ties with the United Nations nuclear agency but stopped short of recommending a severing of relations.

The vote came four days after the U.N. Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Iran for its refusal to cease uranium enrichment, a process that yields material for either nuclear energy or bombs.

The United States and some of its allies suspect Iran’s civilian nuclear program is a cover for developing a nuclear bomb. Iran denies this, saying its program is strictly for generating electricity from nuclear fuel.

The bill said the government was “obliged to accelerate the country’s peaceful nuclear program and revise its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency based on national interests.”

It signaled that Iran was likely to reduce its cooperation with the Vienna, Austria-based IAEA. State radio predicted that once the bill came into effect, “the agency will become an ineffective and weak body.”

Members of Iran’s ruling hierarchy have repeatedly urged the government to cut ties with the IAEA if the Security Council imposes sanctions.

Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said the bill would not bind the government to a particular course of action.

“The bill gives a free hand to the government to decide on a range of reactions — from leaving the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to remaining in the International Atomic Energy Agency and negotiating,” he said during the debate in parliament, which was broadcast live on state radio.

He said 161 out of 203 legislators present voted in favor of the bill, 15 voted against, and 15 abstained. The opponents and abstainers were reformists and moderate conservatives.

The bill required approval by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog controlled by hard-line clerics, to become law. Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar said the council quickly approved it — showing how seriously the ruling hierarchy regarded the move.

France criticized the move, saying it was “not what we expected from Iran.” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau said the Security Council resolution requires Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA.

The nuclear program is supported by all political factions in Iran as it is seen as a symbol of the country’s technological progress. The opposition to the bill shows there are those who believe the authorities are pursuing a policy that is unnecessarily confrontational.

“There is no need for the bill. We should lessen tensions,” said legislator Noureddin Pirmoazzen.

The bill will take effect 15 days after it is signed by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has ardently championed the nuclear program.

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