In a speech three months ago, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated his religious edict against nuclear weapons, insisting that his country would never build them. But a newly published document suggests that Khamenei hasn’t always viewed the bomb as a “great sin.”
According to an internal U.N. document, Khamenei embraced the concept of an Iranian nuclear bomb during a meeting of the country’s top leadership more than two decades ago, saying nuclear weapons were essential for preserving Iran’s Islamic Revolution.
The 2009 document, prepared for the International Atomic Energy Agency, is a collection of statements made by Iranian leaders about nuclear weapons, as gleaned from the nuclear watchdog’s intelligence sources. It cites an April 1984 meeting in which Khamenei allegedly endorsed a decision by then-leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to launch a secret nuclear weapons program.
“According to Ayatollah Khamenei, this was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies ... and to prepare it for the emergence of Imam Mahdi,” states the IAEA document, which was obtained by the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based nonprofit group that analyzes nuclear weapons programs. In Shiite Islam, “Imam Mahdi” is the prophesied 12th Imam who will purge the world of evil in humanity’s last days.
Khamenei allegedly embraced the idea of an Iranian nuclear arsenal that would “serve Iran as a deterrent in the hands of God’s soldiers,” the IAEA memo states.
The words attributed to Khamenei in the memo stand in contrast with the Iranian leader’s speech in which he declared the use of nuclear weapons to be “haraam,” or a great sin, and prohibited.
“It is everybody’s duty to make efforts to protect humanity against this great disaster,” he said in a speech to Iranian scientists.
Iranian officials have cited Khamenei’s religious edict, or fatwa, in making their case that Iran’s nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi cited the fatwa last week in a Washington Post opinion piece, saying that Iran’s leaders “have strongly marked our opposition to weapons of mass destruction on many occasions.”
The United States and many other Western governments believe Iran is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons capability in the guise of a civilian nuclear program. ISIS, the organization that posted the document on its Web site, said it would be unwise, given Iran’s past behavior, to take Khamenei at his word.
“Khameni’s pledge against nuclear weapons is welcome,” ISIS said in a brief commentary about the document. “However, it is not prudent to take his recent commitment at face value. He must prove it.”