Guardian Council passes law to develop nuke tech

TEHRAN (AP) — Iran’s hard-line Guardian Council on Saturday approved a law forcing Iran to develop nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment, an action aimed at strengthening Tehran’s hand in negotiations with Europeans.
The law’s passing does not compel the government to resume uranium enrichment immediately, but it insists the Tehran pursue its nuclear goals even as international pressure over its ambitions are brought to bear. The council’s decision was a clear challenge to European negotiators trying to persuade Tehran to abandon the programme, a lawmaker said.

“Approval of the parliamentary legislation into law by the Guardian Council means Europeans should forget the idea of asking Iran to permanently freeze its nuclear activities forever,” conservative lawmaker Nayereh Akhavan said. Now Iranian negotiators were required by law to persist in uranium enrichment and defend the development of nuclear fuel production facilities, she said. “No one will be in a position to ignore the law during negotiations with Europeans,” she said. Akhavan represents Isfahan, a central historical city where the heart of Iran’s nuclear facilities are located.

Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament had passed the bill on May 15 but the hardline Guardian Council must vet all bills before they become law.

The law calls on the government to develop a nuclear fuel cycle, which would include resuming the process of enriching uranium — a prospect that has drawn criticism from the United States and Europe because it could be used in developing atomic weapons.

Iran suspended enrichment of uranium last November under international pressure led by the United States, which accuses Tehran of trying to make nuclear weapons.

Iran, which maintains its programme is peaceful and is aimed only at generating electricity, has long maintained that its decision in November to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities was voluntary and temporary.

The Europeans had been offering economic incentives in the hope of converting the temporary suspension into a permanent disbandment.

Iranian officials have suggested accepting a permanent freeze of nuclear activities would bring down the government because the programme is a matter of national pride.

The legislation was viewed as strengthening the government’s hand in negotiations with European Union representatives, allowing it to demonstrate domestic pressure to pursue its nuclear programme since talks were deadlocked.

France, Britain and Germany, acting on behalf of the 25-nation European Union, preferably want Tehran to abandon its enrichment activities in exchange for economic aid, technical support and backing for Iran’s efforts to join the World Trade Organisation, or guarantees from Iran that it will not use its nuclear programme to make weapons, as Washington suspects.

Iran has agreed to provide guarantees to that effect but negotiations have made little progress because Europe insists on a permanent freeze.

Earlier this month Iran had threatened to restart some uranium reprocessing activities, the stage that precedes actual enrichment of uranium, after failing to make any progress after several rounds of talks with European negotiators.

The European Union has threatened to take Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions if it resumes uranium reprocessing. Enriched uranium is useful in the generation of electricity, which is permitted under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but it also can be turned into nuclear weapons.

In complicated negotiations with Europeans Wednesday, Iran agreed to continue its suspension of uranium enrichment and all related activities in exchange for a public European pledge to come up with comprehensive proposals for a new round of talks in the summer.

Reformist to run in presidential race
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iranian reformist politician Mostafa Moin, who was given last-minute approval to stand in next month’s presidential election, announced Saturday that he would indeed stand as a candidate.

“After my illegal and unreasonable disqualification, I had two options — one was quitting the elections, the other was participating. It was a difficult choice to make,” Moin said in a statement.

He added that he had decided not to boycott in order to “invite all outstanding figures who have been unfairly and illegally tried and sentenced in the courts to be present on different levels of the country’s management.”

The Guardians Council, a hardline political watchdog which screens all candidates for public office, had initially blocked Moin — who is representing the Participation Front, the main pro-reform party — from standing in the June 17 election.

The former higher education minister has been seen as the most credible reform candidate, and his disqualification was greeted with accusations of a “coup d’etat” and calls for a damaging boycott.

Following the intervention of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Guardians Council backed down and agreed to allow Moin and another reformist to stand after all, bringing the field of contenders to eight.

However, Moin was reluctant to accept the Khamenei decree, and there were fears that even if he managed to pull off a shock win he would simply be a lame-duck president and unable to honour his campaign pledges due to opposition from more powerful hardliners.

The reformists will also have an uphill struggle to bring out voters frustrated by the perceived failure of incumbent President Mohammad Khatami to overcome more powerful hardliners.

Furthermore, he will have to beat off Rafsanjani, who is seeking a comeback as the 26-year-old regime’s number-two and seizing the largely vacant political centre by pledging to save the country from “extremists”.

Rafsanjani, a 70-year-old cleric, is seen as a deal-maker who favours improved ties with the West and economic liberalisation — something that may lure voters tired of Iran’s international isolation and high unemployment.

He could also draw on support from many past reformist voters, eager to elect someone with more political clout.

Campaigning is already under way, and Rafsanjani has again moved to dispel the widely-held belief that he is extremely rich — insisting that he has spent nearly all his money.

“Before the revolution I was among the rich seminary students,” Rafsanjani was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA.

“After the victory of the revolution, I gradually spent my assets on living, my children and the revolution. Now I only have a plot of land in the city of Qom and I do not have any house or land in Tehran,” he insisted during a meeting with students.

The other five candidates are hardliners Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Ali Larijani, Mahmud Ahmadi Nejad and Mohsen Rezai — all veterans of the hardline Revolutionary Guards — plus moderate former parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi.

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