ANKARA (Reuters) - Iran’s parliament passed a bill on Tuesday banning access for U.N. inspectors to its military sites and scientists, potentially complicating chances for a nuclear accord with world powers as a self-imposed June 30 deadline approaches.
Two major stumbling blocks to a deal have been disputes over how much transparency Iran should offer to ease suspicions that it has covertly sought to develop nuclear bombs, and the timing and pace of relief from sanctions imposed on Tehran.
France has spearheaded the powers’ demand that Iran grant unfettered U.N. access to military bases — where Western officials believe Iran has conducted nuclear bomb research — as part of any final settlement that would curb Tehran’s nuclear program in return for a phase-out of sanctions.
The legislation prohibiting any such access, as well as stipulating that all sanctions be lifted as soon as a nuclear accord takes effect, was approved by 214 of 244 lawmakers present on Tuesday, state television reported.
The powers say sanctions can be dismantled only gradually to reward Iranian compliance with various aspects of an agreement.
State TV said the bill allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency solely to inspect Iran’s nuclear installations under its existing Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.
“But it bans any inspection of military, security and non-nuclear sites as well as access to documents and scientists.”
The bill must still pass through the Guardian Council, an unelected, hardline watchdog body close to clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all important matters of state, before becoming law.
Khamenei has publicly voiced trust in his negotiating team but, echoing hardline Iranian military commanders, also ruled out inspections of military sites and interviews with nuclear scientists that the IAEA has long called for.
Iran has long said it is enriching uranium solely for civilian nuclear energy, and suggested that unlimited IAEA inspection powers would be abused by Western intelligence to glean Iranian security secrets.
Parliament’s intervention could pressure Iranian negotiators striving to clinch a deal that could usher in a cautious detente with the West after years of mounting confrontation that threatened a wider Middle East war.
Some senior Iranian negotiators had raised the possibility of some limited IAEA access to non-nuclear sites, albeit with Iranian officials present to control process.
The bill also obliges Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s top negotiator, to report to parliament every six months on the process of implementing the accord.
“The government must preserve Iran’s nuclear rights and achievements ... Any deal reached by the government with the powers must be approved by parliament,” state TV said.
But the official news agency IRNA quoted government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht as saying that provision in the bill was “unconstitutional” as the Islamic Republic’s defense and security policies were not the province of parliament.
Zarif said on Monday he saw a good chance of reaching a final agreement by June 30 or a few days later, provided there was political will to do so.
Britain said Iran had to show more flexibility and the powers could not compromise on red lines including enhanced IAEA access to ensure any accord is verifiable.
Editing by Mark Heinrich