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Iran’s nuclear chief reiterates Tehran’s ability — and unwillingness — to make bomb

Remarks come days after Revolutionary Guard threatens to turn New York into ‘hellish ruins’ through nuclear warheads it could mount on its long-range missiles

Mohammad Eslami, new head of Iran's nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy's (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/ AP/ File)
Mohammad Eslami, new head of Iran's nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy's (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/ AP/ File)

Iran could produce an atomic bomb, but is not interested in doing so, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Mohammed Eslami, said Monday, according to a report by the semi-official Fars news agency.

Eslami did not elaborate on Tehran’s nuclear capabilities and appeared to be reiterating comments made last month by Kamal Kharazi, a top aide to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“As Mr. Kharazi mentioned, Iran has the technical ability to build an atomic bomb, but such a program is not on the agenda,” Eslami said, according to the report.

Kharazi said mid-July that Iran could “easily produce 90 percent enriched uranium,” adding: “It is no secret that we have the technical capabilities to manufacture a nuclear bomb, but we have no decision to do so.”

Eslami’s remarks Monday came after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps on Saturday threatened to attack New York with nuclear warheads that it said it could mount on its long-range missiles.

“According to intelligence delivered to Israel… Iran has amassed sufficient material to build a nuclear bomb…  In case of a hostile measure by America… Iran [has] the ability to turn New York into a heap of rubble from Hell,” the IRGC said in a video published to a telegram channel affiliated with the group.

Meanwhile, AEOI spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi suggested on Monday that other countries should not invest resources in developing nuclear weapons as Tehran’s military might would render any threat “pointless,” according to a report by English language Iranian newspaper Iran Daily.

“Iran’s strategic potential and military power is deterrent enough to repel any foreign threats, thus rendering it pointless for the country to design and develop nuclear weapons,” Kamalvandi told the newspaper.

Spokesperson of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks in a press briefing in Tehran, Iran, July 7, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Iran is in the throes of negotiations to save a failing 2015 agreement it signed with world powers that was supposed to prevent it from producing a nuclear weapon. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) provided Iran with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program. It was signed between Iran and the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany.

Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora arrives at the Coburg Palace, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting that aims at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on February 8, 2022. (Alex Halada / AFP)

However, in 2018, the US administration of Donald Trump pulled out of the pact — saying it did not go far enough to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons and also due to its concerns over Iran’s missile development program. Washington reimposed stiff sanctions on Iran, which responded by dropping many of its own commitments to the deal, ramping up its nuclear activities and in particular increasing uranium enrichment beyond the limits of the JCPOA.

European-sponsored talks to bring the US back into the JCPOA have stalled for months and another recent round of negotiations between Iran and the US in Qatar also failed to make progress.

Israel, which opposes a US return to the JCPOA, has threatened to act alone in striking Iranian facilities if it feels there is an existential threat to the Jewish state from Iran equipping itself with nuclear weapons.

During US President Joe Biden’s trip to the region in July, Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed a joint strategic declaration, in which the US vowed to use “all elements in its national power” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“The United States stresses that integral to this pledge is the commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that it is prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome,” reads the text of the statement, officially known as the Jerusalem US-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration.

US President Joe Biden (L) and Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, smile after signing a security pledge in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2022. (Atef SAFADI / POOL / AFP)

Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel has the ability to cause serious damage to Iran’s nuclear program, and warned that reviving a 2015 pact with world powers to curb Iranian nuclear activities will only be a delaying tactic.

Tehran, meanwhile, claimed last week that Iranian authorities had arrested two Israeli spy networks operating in the country in two separate incidents.

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