Comments from Iran’s intelligence minister on Tuesday about the country’s nuclear program made the rounds in Western and Israeli media and were framed as a “threat” from Tehran that the Islamic Republic is considering making a nuclear weapon.
Mahmoud Alavi restated Iran’s position that its nuclear program was peaceful and said any moves towards nuclear weapons would be the fault of the US.
“Our nuclear program is peaceful and the fatwa by the supreme leader has forbidden nuclear weapons, but if they push Iran in that direction, then it wouldn’t be Iran’s fault but those who pushed it,” Alavi was quoted as saying.
“If a cat is cornered, it may show a kind of behavior that a free cat would not,” he said. But Alavi added that Iran has no current plans to move towards a nuclear weapon.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa in the 1990s that forbids the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons. Khamenei has repeated the fatwa since, and not pursuing nuclear weapons is official Iranian policy.
Iran is currently enriching some uranium at 20 percent, which is still vastly lower than the 90 percent needed for weapons-grade, a level Iran has never attempted. Still, the US points to this increased enrichment as proof that Iran is racing towards a bomb when that is not the case.
The 20 percent enrichment has a civilian purpose. It can be used to make fuel rods for the Tehran Research Reactor, a nuclear facility built by the US in the 1960s that can develop medical isotopes.
Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to limit uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent. About a year after the US withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 by reimposing sanctions on Iran, Tehran began gradually exceeding enrichment levels of the deal. The latest increase to 20 percent came in response to the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed in an apparent Israeli plot.
While Iran is not pursuing a bomb, the increased enrichment is a direct result of the US failing to uphold its commitments under the JCPOA and pressure from Israel. If the Biden administration lifts sanctions, Iranian officials have said they will quickly come into compliance with the limits of the JCPOA.
Failed US nuclear negotiations have pushed countries into developing nuclear weapons before. In 2002, the Bush administration scuttled nuclear negotiations with North Korea by sabotaging the “Agreed Framework” deal signed in 1994, which led to Pyongyang developing nuclear weapons.