Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday that the world could not stop his country from obtaining nuclear weapons if it chose to pursue such a goal, but that Tehran doesn’t want them for religious reasons.
He also urged cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog while warning against succumbing to “bullying” based on “unfounded claims.”
Khamenei made the remarks as he met with scientists, technicians and officials of Iran’s nuclear industry.
“Talks about Tehran’s nuclear weapons is a lie and they [the West] know it,” he said, and reiterated that the stance was in keeping with “our Islamic principles.”
“Otherwise they would not have been able to stop it,” he continued, “just as they have not been able to stop our nuclear progress until now.”
“The nuclear industry is important both in terms of the progress and capabilities of the country in the technical, economic, health fields — which gives prestige to the country and makes life better for the people — and in terms of its global and international political weight,” Khamenei said according to the Fars news agency.
“Cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) within the framework of safeguards regulations should be maintained,” Khamenei said.
The supreme leader said that agreements could be reached in certain fields, but stressed that “the existing infrastructure of the nuclear industry should not be touched.”
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation “need not succumb to the pressure of unfounded claims and demands based on bullying,” Khamenei said, without further clarification.
Iran’s nuclear program has long been the subject of scrutiny from Western powers, resulting in sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
Israel, which sees an nuclear-equipped Iran as an existential threat, has repeatedly said it reserves the right to strike Iran — alone if needed — to prevent it from becoming a nuclear-armed state.
A 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers gave the Islamic Republic relief from international sanctions in return for curbs on its atomic program.
But in 2018 the United States unilaterally withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions, as Tehran publicly walked back its own commitments to restrict nuclear activity including uranium enrichment.
Efforts to revive the deal have so far failed to yield results, although recent reports have suggested that Washington and Tehran have restarted contacts.
Iran has always denied any ambition to develop nuclear weapons capability, insisting that its activities are entirely peaceful. Yet it has enriched uranium to 60 percent which the West, led by the US and Israel, says is a level that has no reasonable use other than as a steppingstone toward the 90% enriched material needed for a weapon.
In 2003, Khamenei issued a fatwa, a nonbinding Islamic legal opinion, that nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are against Islam. He has since then cited that as a reason why Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons.
However, in 2021 ex-Iranian diplomat Amir Mousavi told Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV that Khamenei can reverse the fatwa if needed.
On Friday, the Axios website reported that last month US officials made clear in messages passed to Iran that there will be a severe response if Tehran reaches the 90% uranium enrichment levels required for use in a nuclear weapon — a short technical step from their current level.
The most recent estimate by the International Atomic Energy Agency is that Iran has 114.1 kilograms (251 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60% purity.
In late May, after months of wrangling over the question of traces of nuclear material found in previously undeclared sites, the UN agency announced progress and declared the file closed. However, the watchdog also noted that Iran has significantly increased its stockpile of enriched uranium in recent months.