The Farda Briefing: For The First Time, Iran Raises The Possibility Of Building A Nuclear Bomb
August 03, 2022 11:22 GMT
Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.
I’m Mehrdad Mirdamadi, a senior editor and journalist at RFE/RL’s Radio Farda. Here’s what I’ve been following and what I’m watching out for in the days ahead.
The Big Issue
In a break with policy, Iranian officials have started talking publicly about the possibility of the country building a nuclear bomb.
After Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against nuclear weapons in 2005, officials were adamant that Tehran’s nuclear program was strictly for civilian purposes. But the rhetoric has shifted in recent weeks.
Kamal Kharazi, a senior adviser to Khamenei, suggested on July 17 that the country was capable of making a nuclear weapon but that a decision on whether to do so had not yet been made. A video posted on a Telegram channel affiliated with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on July 29 asked the audience, “When will Iran’s sleeping nuclear bomb wake up?”
The channel claimed that the underground Fordow enrichment facility was able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon. Those claims were echoed on August 1 by Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran’s atomic energy organization.
Why It Matters: The recent statements are unprecedented. It could be an attempt by Iran to gain leverage and concessions at the negotiating table. Protracted talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers have been deadlocked for months. On the other hand, Iran could simply be revealing its intentions to become a nuclear power.
When discussing the nuclear issue, Iranian officials in recent years have cited the Islamic notion of taqiya, in which believers can conceal their faith in the face of persecution. In other words, you can achieve your original purpose in secret.
What’s Next: It is hard to believe that these statements were made without the consent of Khamenei, who has the final say on all important state matters. The supreme leader’s aim could be to restore public faith and pride in the country’s nuclear program and showcase the Islamic republic’s resolve. In this way, if Iran does agree to recommit to the nuclear deal, Khamenei can save face.
When the original agreement was signed in 2015, he hailed the country’s “heroic flexibility.” Since then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the deal in 2018, the agreement has been on life support. This time, Khamenei has resorted to what some have described as “defiant perversity” in his dealings with the West.
The hardening rhetoric that has emerged in recent weeks is likely to continue. On August 2, lawmaker Mohammadreza Sabaghiyan openly threatened that if “bullying from the enemy continues, we will ask our leader to change his fatwa in favor of making a bomb.”
Stories You Might Have Missed
• Iranian authorities amputated the fingers of a man convicted of theft using a guillotine machine. Amnesty International called it an “unspeakably cruel punishment.” Puya Torabi had fingers cut off on July 27 inside Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
In May, authorities amputated the fingers of another convict, Sayed Barat Hosseini, without giving him anesthetic, Amnesty said, revealing that at least eight other prisoners in Iran were at risk of having fingers amputated. Finger amputation as punishment for theft has reemerged recently amid a rise in petty crime and worsening economic conditions.
• Iranian security agents halted a music concert in Tehran while the musicians were on stage playing, in another sign of the crackdown authorities are waging against events they deem contrary to Islamic values.
According to a video published on social media on July 29, the members of the band Kamakan were performing when a security guard suddenly came on stage and told the band’s singer: “Stop! We were ordered to stop this!”
Following a recent uptick in social protests, dozens of concerts and cultural performances have been abruptly called off.