Iran disowns minister’s warning that it might seek nuclear weapons if cornered

In keeping with ayatollah’s fatwa, Tehran insists its atomic program has ‘always been peaceful and will remain peaceful’

Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi answers questions from lawmakers in an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Oct. 25, 2016 (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi answers questions from lawmakers in an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, Oct. 25, 2016 (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Iran insisted Monday that its opposition to nuclear weapons was official policy as laid down by its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the wake of recent remarks by a minister saying it might seek the bomb if cornered.

“Iran’s position remains unchanged. Iran’s nuclear activities have always been peaceful and will remain peaceful,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference.

“The supreme leader’s fatwa banning weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons is still valid,” he added, referring to Khamenei’s religious edict.

The fresh pledge came a week after Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said it would not be Tehran’s fault if the country were ever “pushed” toward developing a nuclear bomb.

In this photo from February 3, 2007, a technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“Our nuclear industry is a peaceful industry. The supreme leader explicitly stated (that) in his fatwa,” Alavi said in a state television interview broadcast on February 8.

“But if a cat is caught in a corner, it may behave differently… If they are pushing Iran in that direction, then it is not Iran’s fault, but those who pushed it.”

He stressed that “under normal circumstances, Iran has no such intention or plan.”

Israel is adamant that Iran is working toward nuclear weapons and has vowed to thwart it.

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that United Nations nuclear inspectors found traces of radioactive material at Iranian nuclear sites that could indicate work on nuclear weapons.

Last month, Tehran announced it was beginning to enrich uranium up to 20 percent — far beyond the 3.5% permitted under the nuclear deal, and a relatively small technical step away from the 90% needed for a nuclear weapon. The UN’s atomic agency confirmed this month that Iran has produced a small amount of uranium metal, a material that technically has civilian uses, but is seen as another likely step toward a nuclear bomb.

Iranian intelligence ministers can only be appointed or dismissed with the approval of the supreme leader.

Iran had claimed the existence of the fatwa for years before making the text public for the first time in 2010, at a time of crisis over its nuclear program.

Tehran was at the time accused by the international community, especially the West and Israel, of seeking to secretly acquire the atomic bomb.

The fatwa declares the use of the atomic bomb and other weapons of mass destruction to be haram, or forbidden by Islam, and it is regularly cited by Iranian authorities as a guarantee of Tehran’s declared good intentions.

But the US State Department described Alavi’s remarks as “very concerning” and said Iran was obliged under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to never “acquire nuclear weapons.”

An Iranian flag flutters at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant on November 10, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The comments come with a landmark 2015 deal between Iran and world powers, limiting Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions relief, hanging by a thread.

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, with Iran a year later gradually suspending its compliance with most key nuclear commitments in response.

The new administration of US President Joe Biden has expressed willingness to return to the deal, but insisted that Iran first resume full compliance, while Tehran has called for the immediate lifting of sanctions.

The Tasnim news agency, considered close to Iran’s ultraconservatives, blasted Alavi over his “astonishing remarks” that could have “very serious consequences.”

It said in an editorial that the leader’s fatwa was not designed just to “appease” the West but showed that an atomic bomb would go against “the nature of the Islamic Republic.”

“These remarks are completely against national interests as they can strengthen the West’s leverage in negotiations and more importantly, give credence to the America’s unjust” stance against Iran, Tasnim said.

Last month, a former Iranian diplomat also said that if Israel or the US take “dangerous” steps, Khamenei may reverse the religious opinion that forbids the acquisition, development or use of nuclear weapons.

Alavi also said Sunday Iran has prosecuted in absentia the main culprit in the assassination last year of top scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Israel alleges spearheaded the country’s rogue nuclear weapons program.

“The main perpetrator behind the assassination who was a fired employee of the armed forces and had left the country before the operation is currently being prosecuted,” Alavi said, according to Press TV.

A billboard carries a portrait of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist linked to the country’s nuclear program who was killed by unknown assailants, at the site of his killing in Absard east of the capital, Tehran, Iran, December 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Alavi said that a member of the Iranian armed forces “facilitated” the killing of Fakhrizadeh, which Iran has blamed on Israel.

It was the first time that Iran acknowledged a member of its armed forces may have acted as an accomplice in the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who headed Iran’s so-called AMAD program, which Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon.

Unveiling a trove of material brought out of Iran by the Mossad on the regime’s nuclear weapons program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2018 that Fakhrizadeh was overseeing Iran’s bid for the bomb.

The International Atomic Energy Agency — the UN’s nuclear watchdog — says that “structured program” ended in 2003. US intelligence agencies concurred with that assessment in a 2007 report.

However, Israel insists Iran is still working to develop nuclear weapons, pointing to its enrichment work, its ballistic missile program and its research into other technologies.

Lawmakers in Tehran recently approved a bill requiring Iran to resume uranium enrichment to 20 percent purity, as it had been doing before the nuclear deal, and to stock 120 kilograms (265 pounds) of uranium each year. The legislation had already been in the pipeline, but it was advanced after Fakhrizadeh was killed.

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