Last month, mainstream American news outlets reported that Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, had issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, in the 1990s forbidding the production of nuclear weapons. The reports, based on a recent statement by the Iranian intelligence minister, are nothing new: mention of the fatwa has appeared in Western media for years, and it has been cited by policymakers and analysts as evidence that the deeply religious regime has no intention of putting its nuclear program to military use. But the problem with this line of reasoning, writes Sean Durns, is that no such fatwa exists:
Iran’s spy chief, [by citing the supposed ruling], is . . . engaged in a longstanding, and recently renewed, disinformation campaign. . . . Tehran has long used claims of a nuclear fatwa as part of its propaganda. . . . In his September 24, 2013, remarks before the UN General Assembly, then-President Barack Obama said, “The supreme leader has developed a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons.” Both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry echoed Obama’s remarks.
In April 2010, Khamenei wrote a letter to the Tehran International Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation referring to nuclear weapons as prohibited. But this is not a fatwa. . . . Since 2004, Iran has published hundreds of newly issued fatwas online. They run the gamut from political to religious and cultural issues, addressing subjects as varied as dancing to taking medicine that contains alcohol. No fatwa against nuclear weapons has surfaced.
Although there isn’t any evidence of an Iranian nuclear fatwa, there is growing evidence of Iran’s nuclear activity.