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Iran unveils nuclear shipping plan after US move

Iran has told its scientists to start developing a nuclear propulsion system for shipping, in what it says is a response to the extension of US bilateral sanctions against Tehran.

The US Senate voted this month to extend the president’s authority to impose financial sanctions on Iran for a further 10 years. The Islamic Republic regards the move as a breach of last year’s nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers — the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany.

The White House has described the bill as unnecessary but said it didn’t violate the international accord, and the extension is set to be signed into the law by Barack Obama, US president, in the coming days.

Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, on Tuesday called on the country’s atomic energy organisation to start “designing and constructing a nuclear propulsion system to be used in marine transportation with the co-operation of scientific and research centres”.

Kamal Kharrazi, the country’s former foreign minister, said Iran did not plan to violate the nuclear accord but that Tehran needed to demonstrate its ability to take action if others did so. “[The country] should take steps to safeguard its rights against their failure of commitments and show them that we can take decisions in this line,” he told Fars, the semi-official news agency, on Tuesday.

It is unclear whether the new technology is intended for use in ships or submarines. In 2012, Iran announced it was at the initial stage of building its first ever nuclear-powered submarine. Some parliamentarians at the time urged the government of the then president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad to start enriching uranium to the levels needed for nuclear-powered ships.

Under the accord, reached last year in Vienna, Tehran agreed to dismantle key nuclear facilities and allow intrusive inspections to ensure it was in compliance, in return for tens of billions of dollars in relief from sanctions imposed over its atomic ambitions.

The latest measure may stoke tensions between Tehran and Washington. During his election campaign, Donald Trump, US president-elect, described the nuclear agreement as the “worst deal ever negotiated” and alternated between saying he would tear it up and that he would renegotiate it.

His transition team has begun sounding out Republicans in Congress about the options for sanctions that might not technically breach the accord, in a move likely to anger Tehran. They could include measures that focus on Iran’s ballistic missile programme or its human rights record, say congressional sources.

Via FT