Iran parliament approves nuclear deal with world powers

Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani (centre) listens to a deputy during a session in Teheran on Tuesday in which the Islamic republic's parliament approved its nuclear deal with world powers, paving the way for the historic agreement curbing Teher
Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani (centre) listens to a deputy during a session in Teheran on Tuesday in which the Islamic republic's parliament approved its nuclear deal with world powers, paving the way for the historic agreement curbing Teheran's atomic programme to take effect.PHOTO: AFP

TEHERAN (AFP) - Iran's parliament approved Tuesday the country's nuclear deal with world powers, paving the way for the historic agreement curbing Teheran's atomic programme to take effect and for sanctions to end.

The vote came after fierce debate over the terms of the accord, which was struck on July 14 but has faced a rough ride from hardliners in Teheran and in the US Congress.

A motion to approve the deal passed 161-59, with 13 abstentions.

A tally on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal's official name, said 250 of Iran's 290 lawmakers were present, with 17 of them not voting.

State television did not broadcast the vote, but media outlets reported angry scenes, with some MPs shouting that their concerns had not been addressed.

A notorious critic of the nuclear diplomacy, Hamid Rasaie, was pictured on social media holding up a piece of paper declaring: "This is an official violation of law. Parliament is a sham."

Another ultraconservative, Mehdi Kouchakzadeh, was quoted as saying: "This is no one's decision; it is Larijani's decision," a reference parliament speaker Ali Larijani's refusal to let him speak.

The agreement between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany) came after almost two years of diplomacy.

Lawmakers in the United States and Iran, sworn enemies since the Islamic revolution of 1979, had insisted on voting on it.

The deal, which will lift nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in return for Teheran, which has always denied that it is seeking an atomic bomb, curbing its nuclear activities. It has been widely hailed as a diplomatic triumph that averts military confrontation and another possible war in the Middle East.

Sanctions relief promises to open to foreign investment Iran's long-hobbled but resource-rich economy, with the world's fourth-highest oil and second-highest gas reserves.

But opponents of the diplomacy, including Israel and US lawmakers, say it will bolster Iran's regional influence and will not halt a dash for the bomb should Tehran want one.

Tuesday's vote, however, again reiterated a permanent ban on the "production and use" of atomic weapons issued by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

And inspections of military sites, one of the most contentious areas of the deal, will be decided on a case-by-case basis by Iran's highest security committee, the Supreme National Security Council.

The SNSC is chaired by President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected on a promise to end the nuclear dispute. He reports to Khamenei, who has the final word.

Members of the US Congress failed in September to torpedo the deal, with President Barack Obama securing enough support in the Senate to protect the agreement.

The accord was debated in Tehran for months, with some MPs repeatedly warning of holes in the text.

Later Tuesday, Rouhani thanked lawmakers for approving the nuclear deal, which he said would open new economic opportunities.

"After the sanctions relief we will enter a competitive international atmosphere," he said on state television. "It will stimulate new activities and more cooperation with the world." In selling the deal to sceptics, Rouhani said his negotiators protected the future of Iran's nuclear programme while ensuring an end to sanctions, which have ravaged the economy.

A debate in parliament on Sunday showed a clear divide remains.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, went on the attack after he and other government negotiators were accused of having capitulated to the West.

One lawmaker had even threatened to kill him, he said.

"It is a good ending in line with national interests and sovereignty," Salehi said after Tuesday's vote.

Iranian officials have said sanctions should be lifted by the end of the year or January at the latest.

However, Iran also has to satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, of the exclusively peaceful nature of its atomic programme.

The IAEA faces a December 15 reporting deadline to resolve what it had termed "ambiguities" over Iran's past nuclear activities.