May 31, 2019 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1458

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif Reiterates Iran's Lie, Promoted By Obama Administration, That Supreme Leader Khamenei Issued Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons; No Such Fatwa Ever Existed

May 31, 2019 | By A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1458


At a May 27, 2019 joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Abe in Tokyo, U.S. President Donald Trump clarified that he has no interest in regime change in Iran but that he does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons.[1]

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded immediately to President Trump's statements, tweeting Iran's false claim that it is not seeking to obtain nuclear weapons because doing so was banned by a fatwa issued by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei:

Also, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, a reformist, reiterated the false claim that a Khamenei fatwa banned nuclear weapons, during a May 28 visit to a Tehran exhibition. He said: "The Supreme Leader of the Revolution [Khamenei] issued a fatwa and also a regime edict according to which there is a religious ban on possessing nuclear weapons. We published this as a document at the UN..."[2]

The Fatwa Served Iran In Nuclear Negotiations With The Europeans – As An Alleged Religious Guarantee That It Will Not Develop Nuclear Weapons

It should be noted that the "document at the UN" to which senior Iranian officials refer is a letter by Cyrus Nasseri, Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the August 2005 IAEA Board of Directors meeting. The letter reported that such a fatwa had been issued by Khamenei. However, this document is not the fatwa; the fatwa itself is not to be found anywhere (see Appendix II of MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 825, Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec'y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei, April 19, 2012). 

Iranian President Hassan Rohani himself stated in a May 2012 interview that he had come up with the idea to say that Khamenei had issued such a fatwa in a November 2004 Friday sermon. However, no such fatwa can be found on Khamenei's fatwa website, neither in November 2004 nor on any other date. Rohani's initiative was aimed, he said, at presenting this to the Europeans as a guarantee that Iran would not strive for nuclear weapons (see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1022, The Official Iranian Version Regarding Khamenei's Alleged Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa Is A Lie, October 3, 2013).

As MEMRI has shown in numerous past reports, no such fatwa has ever existed. Iran's claiming that there is such a fatwa – in an attempt to use it as a substitute for intrusive oversight apparatuses – was promoted by the Obama administration, even though no one could produce the fatwa. In fact, in 2012, U.S. media reported that the Obama administration had used this nonexistent fatwa as justification for reviving nuclear negotiations with Iran. For example, on May 11, 2012 in The Washington Post, David Ignatius wrote that President Obama had sent a message to Khamenei, delivered in March 2012 by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that his "fatwa banning nuclear weapons would be a good starting point for negotiations."[3]

Following Trump's Statements, Khamenei Refers To Iranian Production Of Nuclear Weapons – Without Mentioning His Alleged Fatwa

On May 29, 2019, in an apparent response to President Trump's statements, Khamenei himself mentioned the issue of producing nuclear weapons, but without mentioning the fatwa that he himself allegedly issued. He said: 

"Our scientific and technical capabilities in the nuclear field are high, yet we are not striving for nuclear weapons. Not because of America, not because of the sanctions, but on principles. Our rational principle does not permit weapons of mass destruction such as chemical or nuclear weapons and the like. These are religious bans. Some told us: 'Say that they will be produced but not used.' No, because this too is a mistake. Because if we produce [nuclear weapons], it means that we will not benefit from it, even though we will have spent a great deal on it. Even for the other side, when it knows we are not expected to use it, it is as if we have nothing. Thus, producing [nuclear weapons] when [from the outset] we do not intend to use them is absolutely illogical and unwise. Therefore, we oppose it in principle. This is our religious and jurisprudent principle. We do not seek to obtain nuclear weapons – but we do need to enrich [uranium]."[4]

With regard to a religious ban on nuclear weapons, it should be noted that claims that this claim has been thoroughly disproved. Islamic Pakistan developed nuclear weapons, and Pakistani nuclear expert Abdul Qadeer Khan provided Iran with its initial nuclear knowhow.

Likewise, it is well known – including from IAEA reports – that up until 2003, under Khamenei, Iran had developed components for nuclear weapons. Khamenei's statements are concrete testimony that there was an intent, or a proposal, by Iranian regime officials to possess nuclear weapons without intending to use them. These statements are solid proof that the Iranian regime had clearly dealt with the question of developing nuclear weapons, and that all the talk by the Iranian regime and the Obama administration about a fatwa that guaranteed that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons was groundless.

MEMRI Reports On The Nonexistent Fatwa

The following are MEMRI reports on the nonexistent fatwa published over the years:

*A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI.


[1], May 27, 2019.

[2] Fars (Iran), May 28, 2019.

[3] "President Obama sent a back-channel communication to Khamenei in March that his fatwa banning nuclear weapons would be a good starting point for negotiations. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered the message when he met Khamenei on March 29. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman reiterated Obama's theme during the first round of negotiations with the Iranians in Istanbul on April 14." The Washington Post, May 11, 2012.

[4], May 29, 2019.

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