US State Department's Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel in a press briefing on May 13, 2024

US Slams Iranian Statements About Opting for Nuclear Weapons

Monday, 05/13/2024

The US will not allow Iran to build a nuclear bomb, the State Department said on Monday, one day after a senior Iranian official said Tehran would have no option but to change its nuclear doctrine in the face of Israel's threats.

“[President] Biden and [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a press briefing.

He made the remarks in reaction to Sunday comments by Kamal Kharrazi, a senior advisor to Iran’s ruler Ali Khamenei, that the Islamic Republic would be left with no option but to alter its nuclear doctrine if Israel threatened its nuclear facilities or its existence.

“We continue to assess, though, that Iran is not taking any key activities that would be necessary to produce a testable nuclear device,” Patel told Iran International correspondent Samira Gharaei.

Kharazi said on Sunday that Iran does "not possess nuclear weapons, and there is a fatwa from the leader regarding this matter. But what should you do if the enemy threatens you? You will inevitably have to make changes to your doctrine."

Asked if these comments were a concern for the United States, Patel said, “We don't believe that the Supreme Leader has yet made a decision to resume the (nuclear) weaponization program that we judge Iran suspended or stopped at the end of 2003.”

When asked about the Biden administration's strategy toward a "nuclear threshold state" like Iran in the absence of ongoing negotiations, Patel told Iran International, "We have ways of communicating with Iran when it's in our interest, I'm not going to comment on that."

In a Monday press conference in Tehran, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman suggested that Kharrazi's remarks were not the official position of the Islamic Republic, and that Tehran's nuclear doctrine has not changed.

"Iran's official position on Weapons of Mass Destruction has been repeatedly declared by high-ranking Iranian officials, and there has been no change in Iran's nuclear doctrine," Nasser Kanaani told reporters in a briefing held on the sidelines of Tehran International Book Fair, citing a fatwa by Ali Khamenei on the prohibition of the production and use of nuclear weapons as the basis for Iran's position.

However, the fatwa Iranian officials refer to is not an irrevocable principle. Islamic fatwas can change or be reversed at a moment’s notice, experts have pointed out. Also, the alleged Khamenei fatwa is not actually a religious order, it is part of a statement he submitted to an international conference more than a decade ago.

Khamenei may invoke the principle of expediency to overrule his “anti-Nuclear” fatwa. The principle of expediency, as decreed by the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini in January 1988, stipulates that the Supreme Leader may even violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith in order to preserve “the Islamic Regime” as the preservation of the Islamic Regime supersedes all else.

Kharrazi on Sunday also raised the issue of Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal and called for the Jewish state’s nuclear disarmament. “If Israel threatens other counties, they cannot remain silent,” he retorted.

Last week, Kharrazi had stated, “If they dare to strike Iran's nuclear facilities, our level of deterrence will change. We have experienced deterrence at the conventional level so far. If they intend to strike Iran's nuclear capabilities, naturally, it could lead to a change in Iran's nuclear doctrine.”

In recent weeks, Iran has evoked the option of using the nuclear option as a deterrent against the possibility of an Israeli strike against its atomic facilities, amid a new reality in the Middle East after the October 7 Hamas attack.

On Friday, Iranian lawmaker Ahmad Bakhshayesh Ardestani claimed Iran might already possess a nuclear weapon.

He conveyed to the Rouydad 24 website his belief that Iran's decision to risk attacking Israel in April stemmed from its possession of nuclear weapons.

Ali-Akbar Salehi, who was foreign minister more than a decade ago and is still a key foreign policy voice in the Iranian government, also said last month that Iran has everything it needed to build a nuclear bomb, as tensions rose with Israel amid the Gaza war.

In a televised interview in April, Salehi, was asked if Iran has achieved the capability of developing a nuclear bomb. Avoiding a direct answer he stated, "We have [crossed] all the thresholds of nuclear science and technology.”

Salehi’s statement was preceded by a declaration from a Revolutionary Guard general. In the midst of tensions between the Islamic Republic and Israel, Ahmad Haghtalab, the IRGC commander of the Guard for the Protection and Security of Nuclear Facilities, announced on April 19 that if Israel intends to "use the threat of attacking our nuclear facilities as a tool to pressure Iran, a revision of the nuclear doctrine and policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran and a shift from previously stated considerations is conceivable and likely."

Since early 2021, when the Biden administration opted for negotiations to restore the Obama-era JCPOA agreement, Iran has vastly expanded its uranium enrichment efforts and is now believed to have amassed enough fissile material for 3-5 nuclear warheads.

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