A former Iranian president admitted this week that the country’s nuclear program was started with the intent of building a nuclear weapon, Iranian dissidents said.
The reported comments by Hashemi Rafsanjani to the state-run IRNA news agency would appear to mark the first time a top Iranian official — current or former — has said the country sought a nuclear weapon, in contravention of repeated assurances by the regime that its enrichment program is and always has been peaceful.
The comments by Rafsanjani, which do not appear on IRNA’s English website, were first reported on by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a dissident group of Iranian exiles.
Rafsanjani said the program was begun while the country was at war with Iraq in the 1980s with the express consent and participation of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to NCRI.
“Our basic doctrine was peaceful usage of the nuclear technology although we never abandoned the idea that if one day we are threatened and it is imperative, we would have the capability for going the other path [to nuclear weapon] as well,” Rafsanjani reportedly said.
According to the NCRI, Rafsanjani’s comments are tantamount to admitting that the country is still pursuing a nuclear weapon, though that assertion was not borne out by the group’s translation of the interview.
“The statement by Rafsanjani is an unequivocal testimony to the fact that the Iranian regime, from the onset until present, and under direct supervision of Khamenei and Rafsanjani, has been in search of the nuclear weapon and has never abandoned it,” NCRI said in a statement.
Rafsanjani, 80, served as Iran’s president from 1989 to 1997 and remains influential in Iranian politics despite suffering setbacks in recent years. He is now considered a moderate close to the reformist camp.
He was barred from running in the 2013 presidential election but threw his support behind moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani, who eventually won.
The Iranian regime has repeatedly vowed that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon, and Khamenei has issued fatwas forbidding nuclear weapons.
The country recently reached a pact with world powers to curb enrichment work and open suspected nuclear sites to inspections in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. The deal has been derided by officials in Israel and other critics, who contend that the provisions of the agreement are not robust enough and leave paths open for Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon.
In the interview, published Monday, Rafsanjani reveals that the country’s nuclear program was given a boost by renegade Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdel Qader Khan, widely credited with also selling nuclear technology to North Korea.
He said he and Khamenei, who was at the time a politician and close confidant of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, both went to Pakistan to explore the issue after the outbreak of war with Iraq and a failed bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility.
“Those years, we were all thinking that we should arm ourselves with deterrent elements since the war was not about to end and in our defensive policies we had the word of Imam [Khomeini] in mind that the war may last 20 years,” he said.
AFP contributed to this report.