June 26, 2023 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1701

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: 'If It Were Not An Islamic Principle, And If We Had The Will To Build Nuclear Weapons, We Would Do So – Even The Enemies Know That They Cannot Stop Us'; MEMRI: The Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons That Is Attributed To Khamenei Does Not Exist

June 26, 2023 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1701

The following report is a complimentary offering from the MEMRI Iran Threat Monitor Project (ITMP). For more information, write to with "ITMP Subscription" in the subject line.

Against the backdrop of reports about U.S.-Iran understandings being drawn up for a freeze on the status quo regarding Iran's nuclear program – that is, Western consent to Iran enriching uranium to 60% and storing it in Iran in exchange for the release of Iranian assets and lifting of sanctions and the possibility of a prisoner exchange  – there is a growing impression that the West believes that such understandings actually will lead to a freeze on the status quo and stability on Iran's nuclear scene.

However, the reality is that Iran has not in any way backed off from its efforts to build nuclear weapons, has taken every opportunity to advance its technological capabilities to this end, and has for years misled the international community and lied about its intentions while at the same time widely publicizing its goal to legitimately attain nuclear-threshold status, and continues doing so to this day.

This is evident from the annual intelligence reports of three European countries showing that Iranian elements are making efforts in Europe to obtain materials and knowhow in Europe for atomic, biological, and chemical (ABC) weapons of mass destruction (see Iran's Illicit Procurement Related To Weapons Of Mass Destruction In The Netherlands, Sweden, And Germany During 2022, published June 21, 2023). It is also evident from reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the years prior to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal and after 2018 when President Trump announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from it on suspicious Iranian nuclear activity and Iran's noncooperation with IAEA inspectors. Further evidence are warnings by the European troika – the UK, France, and Germany, aka the E3 – at the June 2023 IAEA Board of Governors meeting that Iran's activity is "a clear threat to regional and global security" (see details in report).

In a June 11, 2023 speech, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei spoke to Iranian nuclear industry officials at an exhibition of the industry's achievements. He reiterated the claim that "producing weapons of mass destruction (whether nuclear or chemical) is against Islam," but this weak wording does not mention the false claim that was uttered for many years by Iranian regime officials – that Khamenei had issued a fatwa banning the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons. Khamenei even stressed: "If it were not an Islamic principle, and if we had the will to build nuclear weapons, we would do so. Even the enemies know that they cannot stop us."

He had made similar statements on February 22, 2021, shortly before the Iranian regime decision to stop implementing the Additional Protocol came into effect (the Additional Protocol allows IAEA inspectors to conduct snap inspections at Iranian nuclear facilities). At that time, he clarified that if the Iranian regime decided to obtain nuclear weapons, neither Israel nor the U.S. would be able to prevent it from doing so (see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1559, Iran Uses 'Maximum Pressure' On Biden Administration – Part II: Supreme Leader Khamenei: 'If The Islamic Republic [Of Iran] Decided To Obtain Nuclear Weapons, Neither You [The Zionist Clown] Nor Those Greater Than You [The U.S.] Would Be Able To Stop It').

Furthermore, in his June 11 speech, Khamenei stressed the importance of Iran's nuclear industry – which Iran insists is devoted entirely to civilian nuclear purposes – as a fundamental element of "Iran's strength and prestige." There is no doubt that this unusual phrase referred to Iran's steady progress towards nuclear weapons – and not, for example, to producing electricity or medicines.

It should be noted that in these statements on the nuclear issue to industry officials, Khamenei did not mention the claim oft repeated by regime officials that he had issued a fatwa banning nuclear weapons.

Below are excerpts from Khamenei's June 11, 2023 speech, from the MEMRI Daily Brief
"Khamenei's 'Nuclear Fatwa,' Once Again," and the IAEA's and E3's warnings about Iran's nuclear activity in May and June 2023 respectively. The Appendix lists all MEMRI reports on Khamenei's nonexistent fatwa.

Khamenei: "The Nuclear Industry Is One Of The Fundamental Elements Of Iran's Strength And Prestige"

The following are highlights of Khamenei's June 11, 2023 speech on nuclear weapons:

"The transformation of [Iran's] nuclear industry into one based on domestic production is very important, and teaches us about the failure of the West... The nuclear industry is one of the fundamental elements of Iran's strength and prestige... The West's claim regarding [its] 'fear of the production of nuclear weapons [in Iran]' is a false one. They themselves know that we are not pursuing nuclear weapons, since the American intelligence community has repeatedly acknowledged the fact, including in recent months, that there is no sign of an Iranian move towards building a nuclear weapon.

"If it were not an Islamic principle, and if we had the will to build nuclear weapons, we would do so. Even the enemies know that they cannot stop us. Producing weapons of mass destruction (whether nuclear or chemical) is against Islam."[1]

MEMRI Report "Khamenei's 'Nuclear Fatwa' Once Again" Reiterates, As Do Many Other MEMRI Reports, That This Fatwa Does Not Exist

It should be emphasized yet again that Khamenei's fatwa banning nuclear weapons that regime officials have repeatedly cited was never published and does not exist. Even the 2022 book by Professor Seyed Hossein Mousavian of Princeton University and Dr. Shameer Modongal of Kerala University – Religion and Nuclear Weapons, A Study of Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan  (Vij Books India Pvt Ltd, 2022, 120 pp.), presents no evidence as to its existence. MEMRI Daily Brief No. 433, Khamenei's "Nuclear Fatwa," Once Again, published November 29, 2022, analyzes in detail how the Iranian leadership is using the false claim of a fatwa attributed to Khamenei.

The fact is that no declaration by Khamenei against possessing nuclear weapons was published on either of his two official fatwa websites. Furthermore, Khamenei even ruled, as part of his jurisdiction, on March 15, 2012 in response to a question that had been submitted via Facebook concerning whether it is permitted to possess nuclear weapons, in light of his alleged declaration that this is forbidden. He ruled: "Your letter has no jurisprudential aspect. When it has a jurisprudential position, then it will be possible to answer it." He concluded the exchange with a statement in the official structure of a fatwa: "No answer was given."

Furthermore, in his Persian New Year address on March 20, 2011, he mocked then-Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi for handing over his nuclear installations to the U.S.: "This gentleman wrapped up all his nuclear facilities, packed them on a ship, and delivered them to the West and said, 'Take them!' Look in what position our nation is, and in what position they [the Libyans] are now."

The MEMRI Daily Brief Khamenei's "Nuclear Fatwa," Once Again reviews statements by Iranian regime officials on Iran's need for nuclear weapons, and discusses the false fatwa and its source.

In this context, see:

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9938, Fatwa By Iranian Grand Ayatollah: There Is No Ban On Acquiring Knowledge And Practical Capability To Produce A Nuclear Bomb; Iranian Politician: "When We Began Our Nuclear Activity, Our Goal Was Indeed To Build A Bomb," April 29, 2022

MEMRI  Inquiry and Analysis No. 1518, The Iran-U.S. Conflict: Iran Is Working On Obtaining Strategic Capability – Long-Range Missiles And Nuclear Submarines, June 26, 2020.

See also the Appendix for a list of MEMRI reports on the nonexistent nuclear fatwa.  

May 2023: IAEA Issues Warning About Iran's Nuclear Activity

Reports by the IAEA, the body authorized to oversee Iran's nuclear activity, have warned that Iran is very close to developing nuclear weapons. The IAEA Board Of Governors stated on May 31, 2023 that Iran is violating the conditions of the JCPOA deal, enriching uranium to 60% – far exceeding the permitted 3.75%  – as well as stockpiling enriched uranium in quantities greater than allowed – 4.7 metric tons instead of the permitted 300 kg enriched to 5% only. Iran, which to date has 114 kg of 60% uranium  (which has no civilian use) is obstructing IAEA inspectors at its facilities and has for years been accused of ongoing failure to cooperate with the agency. The IAEA noted in its May 31, 2023 report that as of "the meeting of the Board of Governors in June 2022, the Agency was still seeking explanations from Iran" regarding disputes over two nuclear facilities and the installation of monitoring measures at the facilities.[2] 

June 2023: E3 Warns At Board of Governors Meeting: "[Iran's] Activities Show That Iran Has Built Capabilities Suitable For Enrichment For Nuclear Weapons Purposes"

The E3 issued a joint warning at the June 6, 2023 meeting of the IAEA's Board of Governors concerning Iran's activities, which it called "a clear threat to regional and global security." The following are excerpts from the warning:

"Iran has unabatedly continued escalating its nuclear programme beyond civilian justification, and has displayed little will to implement the transparency commitments laid out in the Joint Statement agreed last March.

"First, on the state of the nuclear programme, the Director General's report shows Iran continues down its path of significant nuclear escalation... All of us on this Board must see this as a major expansion of Iran’s nuclear programme, raising serious questions about the intent of its activities."

The E3 also warned about Iran's continued production of uranium metal:

"The detection last January of uranium particles enriched to 83.7% U-235 highlights the seriousness of Iran’s continuing escalation. This enrichment was grossly inconsistent with the level declared by Iran and constituted an unprecedented and extremely grave development, for which there is no credible civilian justification.

"While the Director General reports that the information provided was 'not inconsistent' with Iran's explanations, the significance of the detection of undeclared changes made to the cascade configuration at Fordow should be fully understood:"

"First, this step, along with Iran’s wider nuclear programme, brought Iran dangerously close to actual weapons-related activities. Second, Iran is still using a configuration which can enable the production of high enriched material at levels considerably over 60%, showing Iran’s disregard for the gravity of this development.

"The circumstances of its discovery through an unannounced inspection, as well as the large-scale accumulation of highly enriched [60%] uranium, continue to ring alarm bells. These actions show Iran has built capabilities suitable for enrichment for nuclear weapons purposes. It is the responsibility of the international community, and particularly of this Board, to call upon Iran not to engage in enrichment activities that raise serious questions about its intent, particularly given Iran’s historical track record.

"Such overall escalation comes at a point when the Agency has been without access to data on centrifuge and component manufacturing for more than two years. As reiterated in the report, Iran’s decision to stop cooperating with the monitoring and verification activities agreed in the JCPOA means the Agency would no longer be able to re-establish continuity of knowledge even in the event of a full JCPOA resumption. Iran's decision to remove Agency surveillance and monitoring equipment has had detrimental implications for the Agency’s ability to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.

"We urge Iran to re-install all equipment in all the locations deemed necessary by the IAEA, and to provide all the footage from the cameras, including data recorded from February 2021 to June 2022. This should be done without delay. We also recall that, under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, Iran is legally obliged to implement Modified Code 3.1. and cannot change its application or withdraw from it unilaterally.

"We deeply regret that Iran did not accept the fair and balanced deal that the JCPOA Coordinator tabled almost a year ago, and instead chose to accelerate its programme. Iran bears full responsibility for this situation. We urge Iran to immediately stop and reverse its nuclear escalation, and allow for complete transparency with the IAEA by re-applying the Additional Protocol..."[3]

*A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project.

Appendix: MEMRI Reports On Khamenei's Nonexistent Nuclear Fatwa

The following are MEMRI reports on the issue of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's fatwa banning nuclear weapons – which does not exist:


[1], June 11, 2023.

[2] NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran,, May 31, 2023.

[3] E3 Statement at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting, June 2023,, June 6, 2023.

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