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. Iran to reduce nuclear cooperation after sanctions
TEHRAN, Dec 27 (AFP) Dec 27, 2006
Iran's parliament on Wednesday approved a bill obliging the government to "revise its cooperation" with the UN nuclear watchdog in retaliation for Security Council sanctions imposed on Tehran.

The text of the bill, which also tells the government to "accelerate" Iran's controversial nuclear drive, was approved by an overwhelming majority in the conservative-controlled parliament, with 161 in favour and 15 against.

The move is set to further inflame tensions over the Iranian nuclear programme, which the Islamic republic has vowed to expand in defiance of the sanctions agreed by the UN Security Council last week.

Iran has refused to heed the council's call to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that Western countries fear could be used to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its atomic drive is entirely peaceful.

The formulation of the bill gives the government a free hand to limit cooperation with the Vienna-based agency as it sees fit. This could involve limiting UN inspections of its atomic sites, a move urged by several lawmakers.

"Officials from the foreign ministry and the supreme national security council should be left to interpret the text," said Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Reza Asefi, who promoted the bill on behalf of the government.

Parliament speaker Gholam Ali Hadad Adel echoed comments from other top officials that Iran did not intend to quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but emphasized the government could interpret the bill as it wanted.

"The government should react (to the bill) in a way appropriate to the international pressure.

"This could mean quitting the NPT or staying there. We will give a free hand to the government to take its decisions," he added.

Lawmakers first voted on the title of the bill and then on the fuller text which reads that "the government is obliged, following resolution 1737, to accelerate the nuclear programme and revise its cooperation with the IAEA".

Almost immediately after it was passed, the bill was approved as law by the hardline Guardians Council which vets all parliamentary legislation.

Iran in February stopped allowing extensive UN access to its atomic sites. But up until now it has still been allowing regular UN inspections of nuclear installations.

After weeks of diplomatic wrangling, the UN Security Council on Saturday adopted a resolution which imposes restrictions on Iran's nuclear industry and ballistic missile programme.

The debate in parliament was marked by a few dissenting voices from the minority reformists but the overwhelming majority spoke out in favour of retaliation.

"Rejecting this resolution means that a resolution that is even stricter will be passed in two months. The best solution is to establish a bridge with the other countries to reduce the tension," said reformist MP Nourredine Pirmoazen.

However a conservative deputy, Ebrahim Karkhaneie, said that "no country has the right to renounce its legitimate rights under threats."

Iran's immediate reaction to the UN sanctions resolution was to announce it would press ahead with plans to install 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium at its key nuclear plant in Natanz, central Iran.

Officials have said they want Iran to celebrate a major step towards enriching uranium on an industrial scale when the country marks the 28th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in February.

Oil markets dived during the past day on fears over the consequences of the continued defiance of Iran, the world's number four crude producer.

Meanwhile, Iranian oil and gas officials have complained that US pressure on foreign banks not to lend to Iran have resulted in financing problems for key energy projects.

"Unfortunately, most of the foreign banks think politically instead of commercially and thus they impose some restrictions (on us)," the managing director of the Pars Oil and Gas Company, Akbar Torkan, was quoted as saying by the Sarmayeh newspaper.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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