Iran’s mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other international organizations in Vienna has provided a copy of a document, which it says constitutes supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's “fatwa” outlawing nuclear weapons.
Administration officials refer periodically to the “fatwa,” although some skeptics, including Muslims, have expressed doubts that such a ruling exists – or if it does, that it holds much weight. Some Iranian critics of the regime call it an outright hoax.
As the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities has dragged on, confusion has long swirled around the fatwa because there doesn’t appear to be a single, definitive copy of it. In referring to it, Iranian officials have also given various dates of issue.
Shortly before his election President Hasan Rouhani said last May the fatwa was declared in November 2004, but according to Iran’s mission to the United Nations it is dated February 2012. Other officials have said it was issued in August 2005, a claim repeated in a column on state-funded Press TV this week.
In response to queries about the fatwa, its original wording, and the apparent date discrepancies, the Iranian mission in Vienna has now provided a document carrying yet another date – April, 17, 2010 – and states that this is indeed the supreme leader’s fatwa in question.
The document is a transcript of a speech Khamenei gave to an conference on nuclear disarmament in Tehran, in which he defends Iran’s “natural and valuable right” to a peaceful nuclear program, and takes aim at the United States.
“The interesting point is that the only nuclear criminal in the world currently falsely claims to be combating the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” the speech says, adding that if the U.S. was really combating proliferation then Israel would not have nuclear weapons.
“Although many countries have sought to manufacture and stockpile nuclear weapons – which in itself can be viewed as a prelude to the commission of crimes and has seriously jeopardized global peace – only one government has thus far committed a nuclear crime,” it says. “Only the government of the United States of America attacked the oppressed people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs, in an unequal and inhumane war.”
The speech accuses of group of powers – none of them named except for the U.S. – of having provided “the Zionist regime” with nuclear weapons, in contravention of their commitments under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“These countries, headed by the bullying and aggressive United States regime, pose a serious threat to the Middle East region and the world.”
Finally, the speech widens the focus onto other non-conventional weapons and ends with the supposed religious prohibition.
“We believe that, besides nuclear weapons, other types of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons, also pose a serious threat to humanity,” it says.
“We consider the use of such weapons as haram (religiously forbidden) and believe that it is everyone’s duty to make efforts to secure humanity against this great disaster.”
A spokesman for the Iranian mission in Vienna described a fatwa as “a religious verdict by a religious leader which must be followed by all his followers.”
Some fatwas are issued in response to a question put to a religious leader, he said, while others may be given “due to the importance of an issue and not as a response to a question.”
“[A] fatwa by itself could be issued through a declaration, statement, lecture, letter and any kind of indications that reflects the religious leader's views on a specific issue.”
When he addressed the U.N. General Assembly last September, President Obama said “the supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons,” a line he repeated when talking to reporters after he and Rouhani spoke on the phone three days later.
Seventeen months earlier, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she had been “very interested” to hear about Khamenei’s fatwa during discussions with Turkish leaders who had just returned from Iran. She said she had discussed the matter with “a number of experts and religious scholars,” and she called on Tehran to reassure the world that “that it’s not an abstract belief but it is a government policy.”
Some former senior U.S. government figures have urged the administration to acknowledge and welcome the fatwa “as one of the bases for nuclear negotiations.”