Iran's parliament has rejected a draft state budget proposed by President Hassan Rohani’s government, amid a political struggle between moderates and conservative hard-liners ahead of the presidential election in June.
State TV reported on February 2 that of the 261 lawmakers present in the 290-seat parliament, which is dominated by hard-liners, 148 voted against the bill while 99 backed it. The rest abstained.
Opponents of the proposed budget for the year beginning on March 21 argued that its heavy deficit and unrealistic oil-income forecast would worsen inflation and burden an economy already hit hard by U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran under former President Donald Trump.
The rejection of the draft budget came after much discussion in various parliamentary committees since Rohani’s government, seen as moderate, presented the bill in December 2020.
The administration now has two weeks to submit a new draft budget, and if the impasse is not resolved a temporary budget would have to be passed for one to three months, Iranian news agencies quoted lawmakers as saying.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said it is willing to modify the bill, but without "changing the overall structure and projecting unrealistic earnings."
In 2018, Trump pulled the United States out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, and started imposing crippling sanctions on Iran as part a “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at forcing the country to negotiate a new agreement that would also address the country’s missile programs and its support for regional proxies.
In response, Iran has gradually breached parts of the pact saying it is no longer bound by it, despite international calls for Tehran to return to full compliance.
Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on February 2 that Iran was enriching uranium with a larger number of advanced centrifuge machines, deepening a key breach of the nuclear accord.
“Thanks to our diligent nuclear scientists, two cascades of 348 IR2m centrifuges with almost 4 times the capacity of IR1 are now running with UF6 successfully in Natanz. Installation of 2 cascades of IR6 centrifuges has also been started in Fordow,” Gharibabadi tweeted.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on February 1 said that Washington is willing to return to compliance with the 2015 accord if Iran does, and then work with U.S. allies and partners on a "longer and stronger" agreement including other issues.
Iranian officials insist that the United States should make the first move by returning to the nuclear agreement, which eased international sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran's disputed nuclear program.
They also say the country’s missile program and regional policies are off the table.
In an interview broadcast on February 1, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested that the United States and Iran take synchronized steps to return to the nuclear accord.
In response, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on February 2 that the U.S. administration will be "consulting with our allies, consulting with our partners, consulting with Congress before we're reaching the point where we're going to engage directly with the Iranians and [be] willing to entertain any sort of proposal."