TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's parliament asked the government Wednesday to re-examine its ties with the U.N.'s nuclear agency following a Security Council decision to impose limited sanctions, a vote by the legislature that was seen as likely to reduce the country's cooperation with the international atomic authority.
The vote came four days after the U.N. Security Council decided to impose limited sanctions on Iran for its refusal to cease enrichment of uranium — a process that produces the material for either nuclear reactors or bombs.
"The bill gives a free hand to the government to decide on a range of reactions — from leaving the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to remaining in the International Atomic Energy Agency and negotiating," speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said during the debate, which was broadcast live on state radio.
A special committee was formed to figure out how to best implement the law, which allows the government to "revise" its ties with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.
"Today, Iran's Supreme National Security Council formed a committee to study aspects of the law and making decision based on the situations ," Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, was quoted as saying by the Irna official news agency.
The bill said that the government was "obliged to accelerate the country's peaceful nuclear program and revise its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency based on national interests."
What steps Iran would take was not immediately clear. Legislators and newspapers have mooted that Iran might restrict the IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities — cutting the number of inspections and barring inspectors from certain sites.
In a possible indication of how much Iran plans to change its relations with the IAEA, state radio predicted later Wednesday that once the bill had come into effect, "the agency will become an ineffective and weak body."
Members of Iran's ruling hierarchy had repeatedly urged the government to cut ties with the IAEA if the Security Council imposes sanctions.
France criticized the move, saying it was "not what we expected from Iran." French Foreign Ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau said the Security Council resolution requires Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA.
"We therefore renew our call for Iran to respect its commitments and obligations and cooperate actively with the IAEA," Simonneau said.
In Vienna, the IAEA declined to comment on the vote.
Pope Benedict XVI received a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad concerning the security council resolution, Irna reported, but the Vatican did not make contents of the note public. It was given to the pope by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki during a brief meeting after his general audience.
Parliament Speaker Haddad Adel said that 161 of the 203 legislators in the assembly voted for the bill, which was supported by the government. Fifteen legislators voted against it, and another 15 abstained. The opponents and abstainers were reformists and moderate conservatives.
The Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog controlled by hard-line clerics, approved the bill very quickly — showing how seriously the ruling hierarchy regarded the move.
Some hard-line legislators had pushed for a bill that took a more aggressive line against the Vienna-based agency, which they accused of being dominated by the United States, but other legislators said the bill should be thrown out.
"There is no need for the bill. We should lessen tensions," said legislator Noureddin Pirmoazzen, a reformist.
The nuclear program is supported by all political factions in Iran as it is seen as a symbol of the country's technological progress. The opposition to Wednesday's vote shows there are those who believe the authorities are pursuing a policy that is unnecessarily confrontational.
The bill will take effect 15 days after it is signed by Ahmadinejad.
The United States and some allies accuse Iran of using a civilian nuclear program as a cover for developing a nuclear bomb. Iran denies this, saying its program is strictly for generating electricity from nuclear fuel.