Iran’s intelligence minister has warned the West that his country could push for nuclear weapons if crippling international sanctions on Tehran remain in place, state television reported Tuesday.
The remarks by Mahmoud Alavi mark a rare occasion that a government official said Iran could move toward nuclear weapons. Tehran has long insisted that the program is for peaceful purposes only.
“Our nuclear program is peaceful and the fatwa by the supreme leader has forbidden nuclear weapons, but if they push Iran in that direction, then it wouldn’t be Iran’s fault but those who pushed it,” Alavi was quoted as saying.
A 1990s fatwa, or religious edict, by the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that nuclear weapons are forbidden.
“If a cat is cornered, it may show a kind of behavior that a free cat would not,” Alavi said. He added that Iran has no plans to move toward a nuclear weapon under current circumstances.
Last month, a former Iranian diplomat 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.
The 81-year-old supreme leader, who has the final say on all matters of state in Iran, on Sunday urged the United States to lift all sanctions if it wants Iran to live up to commitments under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. However, President Joe Biden has said the US won’t be making the first move.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that Iran was currently months away from being able to produce enough material to build a nuclear weapon. And, he said, that timeframe could be reduced to “a matter of weeks” if Tehran further violates restrictions it agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Following the killing last December of an Iranian scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, named by Israel as spearheading the country’s rogue nuclear weapons program, Iran’s parliament has approved a law to block international nuclear inspectors later this month — a serious violation of the accord.
Alavi, the intelligence minister, was also quoted as saying that a member of the Iranian armed forces “facilitated” the killing of the scientist, which Iran has blamed on Israel.
The minister did not expand on what he meant — and it was not clear if the soldier had carried out the explosion that killed Fakhrizadeh. Israel, which has been suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the last decade as well as allegedly carrying out attacks on a number of facilities, has repeatedly declined to comment on the attack.
This 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.
On Saturday, 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.
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.
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. Iran also said it was beginning research into uranium metal, a material that technically has civilian uses, but is seen as another likely step toward a nuclear bomb.