August 2, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1648

Shift In Iranian Regime Statements On Nuclear Weapons: Regime Spokesmen Talk Openly About Them, Aiming For Western Acquiescence To Iran As A Nuclear Threshold State

August 2, 2022 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1648


Recently, there has been a noticeable shift in statements by Iranian regime spokesmen on the issue of acquiring nuclear weapons, with the aim of gaining Western recognition of Iran as a nuclear threshold state. While these spokesmen once vehemently denied any intention to obtain nuclear weapons, basing this on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's alleged "nuclear fatwa" (that does not exist at all – see Appendix II) banning nuclear weapons, today they are increasingly declaring that Iran has the technical capability to produce nuclear weapons. The most recent declaration of this kind came on August 1, 2022 from Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) director Mohammad Eslami. He said that Iran "has the technical capability to produce an atom bomb but such a plan is not on the agenda."[1]

Moreover, Iranian spokesmen are describing a situation in which producing nuclear weapons would be a defensive response to an attack on Iran, or in which they would officially constitute compensation for repeated U.S. violations of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement. "Violation" here means the U.S.'s 2018 withdrawal from the JCPOA or what Iran claims is the U.S.'s failure to meet its economic obligations to Iran.

Tehran's depiction of itself as a victim who is being forced to respond to alleged Western aggression also allows it to cling to the nonexistent "nuclear fatwa" and to claim that it had never wanted to obtain nuclear weapons and that doing so is only a response to Western aggression. In this way, Iran seeks to advance towards its strategic goal of being upgraded to "nuclear threshold" status and beyond. Gaining the status of a legitimate nuclear threshold state capable of producing a nuclear bomb within a short time will allow Tehran to reach a nuclear balance of terror in the Middle East. In the view of the Islamic revolutionary regime of Iran, such a scenario would assure its continued existence, and would stop any attempt by the West to restrict the range of Iran's ballistic missiles and its expansion in the region.[2]

Tehran is taking advantage of the deadlock in the nuclear talks in Vienna to establish legitimacy for its status as a recognized nuclear threshold state, and therefore it is insisting on its unreasonable demands of the U.S., including forcing all subsequent U.S. administrations to follow the policy of its predecessors or the lifting of all U.S. sanctions on Iran, including those unconnected to the JCPOA and related matters such as sponsorship of terrorism and human rights violations – that is, sanctions on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).[3]

In effect, what Iran is trying to do is to leverage the JCPOA, which was aimed at guaranteeing that it will not obtain nuclear weapons, in order to justify its entitlement to possess nuclear weapons.

This report will present recent Iranian statements justifying the Iranian regime's development and possession of nuclear weapons for a defensive response, taking advantage of the deadlock in the nuclear talks to advance its goal. The two Appendices below include reports on statements in recent months by Iranian spokesmen on nuclear weapons and false claims about the existence of a nuclear fatwa by Supreme Leader Khamenei banning these weapons.

The Situation As Of August 2022: Iran Is "Curtailing" IAEA Oversight, Escalating Its Statements On Nuclear Weapons; IAEA Chief Grossi: Iran "Must Restore All Our Monitoring Capabilities If They Want To Be Trusted... The Only Way To Have Confidence Is To Be Inspected – Good Words Will Not Do... We Don't Know What's Happening" With Iran's Nuclear Program

Since the Iranian leadership assesses that no Western element wants to clash with it, and that the only solution as far as the West is concerned is diplomacy, Iran is stepping up its moves on the ground and constantly reframing the discourse.

The regime's most recent move was turning off the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  monitoring cameras at its nuclear facilities, in response to the IAEA Board of Governors' condemnation of Iran due to its failure to cooperate with the IAEA in the matter of Iranian activity suspected to be military at undeclared nuclear facilities. On June 6, 2022, Iran announced that it was disconnecting 27 IAEA cameras, making oversight of its declared facilities more difficult, and on July 25, the director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Mohammad Eslami, announced that these cameras would not be turned back on until the U.S. returned to the JCPOA. Thus, IAEA activity in Iran is subject to U.S. compliance with Iran's demands in the negotiations for the revival of the JCPOA. 

In response to Iran's curtailing of IAEA oversight at its nuclear facilities, IAEA director Rafael Grossi told CNN on July 25: "We do not have information that they are making nuclear weapons... at the same time its [uranium] enrichment is very close to weapons-grade, which is 90% – they are enriching at 60%... [Iran] must restore all our monitoring capabilities if they want to be trusted. Confidence must be there... In the nuclear field, the only way to have confidence is to be inspected. Good words will not do... We don't know what's happening [with Iran's nuclear program]."[4]

Iranian Sources Call For Obtaining Nuclear Weapons, Threaten To Use Them If Iran Is Attacked

Since President Biden entered the White House in January 2021, and even more so in recent weeks, Iranian regime spokesmen's statements on nuclear weapons and Iran's technical capability for producing them have multiplied (see Appendix I). This is in spite of Khamenei's (nonexistent) nuclear fatwa banning nuclear weapons, which is presented by the Iranian regime as a more powerful obstacle to obtaining nuclear weapons than IAEA inspections.

Along with these Iranian moves, the defiant declarations about Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons appear to mark the next stage in the Iranian regime's efforts to gain international legitimacy for its aim recognition as a nuclear threshold state, or even as possessing nuclear weapons. These statements contrast with the regime's uniformly cautious position in years past.

On August 1, 2022, AEOI director Eslami said: "As [Leader Khamenei's foreign policy advisor and Strategic Foreign Relations Council chairman] Mr. [Kamal] Kharrazi said [in July 2022, see Appendix I], Iran has the technical capability to produce an atom bomb, but such a plan is not on the agenda."[5]

AEOI director Eslami (Source:, August 29, 2021)

Video On IRGC-Affiliated Telegram Channel: "When Will Iran's Nuclear Bombs Be Awakened From Their Slumber?"

The "Bisimchi Media" channel on Telegram, which is reportedly affiliated with the IRGC, posted a video on July 29, 2022 titled "When Will Iran's Nuclear Bombs Be Awakened From Their Slumber?" It should be noted that the video refers not only to an Iranian nuclear attack but also, for the first time, to an Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile attack on New York.

The video mentions the Iranian military nuclear "Emad Project" that will be activated in the blink of an eye in the event of an Israeli or Western attack on Iran. It adds that if the vulnerable nuclear facility at Natanz is attacked, the invulnerable Fordo facility will immediately begin production of nuclear weapons, and that if "hostile steps" are taken by the U.S., Iran's intercontinental ballistic missiles will turn New York into "a heap of rubble from Hell."

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

Iranian Researcher's Solution For The Impasse In The Nuclear Talks In Vienna: "Withdrawal From The Agreement By America Or Its European Allies Will Be Considered Legitimate Approval For [Iran To] Produce Nuclear Weapons"

In an article titled "Three Proposals For Removing The Obstacles To Reviving The Nuclear Agreement," published July 20, 2022 on the moderate-conservative Iranian website Asr-e Iran, international relations researcher Dr. Jalil Bayat listed solutions for overcoming the U.S.'s difficulty in complying with Iran's demands in the negotiations to revive the JCPOA. The solutions proposed by Dr. Bayat, who is a member of the Iranian Political Science Association and who was visiting researcher at the Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies Center, boil down to greater legality and official standing for Iran to develop nuclear weapons should an American president decide in the future either to withdraw the U.S. from the JCPOA a second time, assuming that the U.S. rejoins the agreement, or not to lift the sanctions on the IRCG before the next U.S. presidential election in 2024. He even insisted that Iran's demand for Western, and preferably American, investment in the Iranian market be anchored in the revived agreement. The following are the main points of his article:

"While some believe that with the revival of the nuclear talks in Qatar, the revival of the nuclear agreement is more within arm's reach than in the past, the evidence indicates that disagreements remain [to be resolved]. It appears that the revival of the nuclear agreement is facing at least three main obstacles:

"The first obstacle is connected to American guarantees not to withdraw from this agreement a second time. The second obstacle is connected to removing the IRGC from the list of terror organizations, and the third obstacle is Iran's request to lift all the sanctions placed [on Iran] since [President] Trump withdrew from this agreement.

"With regard to the first matter, [President] Biden states that according to American laws, he cannot guarantee that the next American president will not withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

"With regard to the second matter, due to what it would cost him in America, Biden has officially announced that he will not remove the IRGC from the blacklist, even if it means the death of the nuclear agreement.

"With regard to the third matter, American has declared that Iran's request [that all sanctions be lifted] exceeds America's obligations under the nuclear agreement.

"These conditions have reduced the chances for a revival of the nuclear agreement more than ever before. At the same time, it may be that with several initiatives it would be possible to save this agreement from death and at the same time prevent a possible American withdrawal from it and a renewal of the crisis:

"The first obstacle mentioned above seems to be the most important for reviving the nuclear agreement, at least from Iran's point of view, because the possibility that America will withdraw a second time from this agreement will be interpreted as ridicule of Iran and creation of a massive political-economic crisis for it. Likewise, since Biden's popularity is the lowest of all American presidents in the past 70 years, and since there is a possibility that Trump or another Republican candidate will win in 2024, this consideration will become more important for Iran's leaders.

"Since Biden is legally unable to ensure that the next president will not withdraw from the nuclear agreement, one solution is that since Trump toughened the conditions for reviving the nuclear agreement, steps must be taken to make it impossible for America to withdraw from this agreement.

"In this context, the following must be added to the text of the agreement: Withdrawal from the agreement by America or its European allies will be considered legitimate approval for [Iran] to produce nuclear weapons."

"If America wishes to withdraw from the nuclear agreement in the future, it in effect agrees that Iran will produce nuclear weapons, and relinquishes all right to protest [against this]. In this way, the price an American president must pay for withdrawing from the nuclear agreement will be very steep, making this option nearly impossible. Obviously, this writer is aware that this is the highest price and that it will be possible to change [this proposal] in negotiations for giving Iran legal approval to withdraw from the NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons].

"It seems that the removal of the second obstacle is a little difficult without patience on Iran's part. Because the American secretary of state can remove any organization from the [State Department] blacklist at any time, one solution is to note in the [nuclear] agreement [after it is revived] that America will examine this activity with a positive eye within a certain period of time (for example, by 2025 [sic] when the American presidential elections are planned).

"It should be noted in the [revived] nuclear agreement that [the section] on removing the IRGC from the abovementioned list is an integral part of the agreement. Failure to implement this by the given date means [two things:] that [the U.S. has] failed to meet its obligations [set out in the agreement] and subsequently is withdrawing from the agreeing. This will have ramifications as a repeated U.S. withdrawal from the agreement [meaning that Iran is now entitled to produce nuclear weapons].

"In this way, Biden will be able to state that he has not removed the IRGC from the blacklist, merely postponed doing so in accordance with future IRGC behavior. Therefore, if in 2025 [sic] a Democratic administration takes power, it will be easier than it is now to remove the IRGC from the blacklist. If the administration is Republican, it will have to accept the price for not carrying out this [removal] – that is, America is out of the agreement and Iran receives approval for producing nuclear weapons.

"Assuming that the Republicans win in 2024, with the passage of such an initiative, the Biden administration can pass the price for removing the IRGC from this list on to the Republicans' shoulders.

"With regard to the solution for the third obstacle, Iran's aim in its insistence that all the sanctions be removed is to take advantage of all the economic benefits before [it] enters into the nuclear agreement. Thus, for Iran, it will satisfactory to create a situation in which this economic benefit happens, even if it is not through the lifting of all Trump's sanctions, but through some other way...

"One solution is to keep the part of the sanctions that Biden cannot or will not remove, but at the same time [Iran] can be compensated with large investments in it. It is best that these investments also be made by American companies. But since this issue could face domestic opposition, an international consortium (that will include other countries that are members of the nuclear agreement and countries such as Japan, South Korea, Canada, and so on) could be considered in this matter.   

"Of course, the private economies of the Western countries will refrain from fulfilling the agreements and obligations of their governments without argument. At the same time, [Western] governments can ease the conditions of said investors' and companies' long-term (over 10 years) presence in Iran.

"It appears that these three solutions, which are of course subject to negotiation, can break the impasse in arriving at an agreement.

"In any event, it should be remembered that conditions for reviving the nuclear agreement have become very complicated, to the point where in order to reimplement it there is a need for both sides to make all possible efforts and at the same time take a facilitating position."[6]

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


Appendix I: Senior Iranian Regime Officials' Past Statements On Iran's Possible Acquisition Of Nuclear Weapons

For past statements by senior regime officials regarding nuclear weapons and the possibility that Iran will acquire them, see the following MEMRI reports:


MEMRI Reports

Appendix II: 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], August 1, 2022.

[3] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1612, Living In A Fantasy: Iran, The U.S., And Europe At The Vienna Talks, December 14, 2021. The Iran-U.S. talks for reviving the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement, with the help and mediation of the EU, have been deadlocked for a year, because the Iranian regime is trying to force the U.S. to accept its conditions while it itself exceeds what was agreed in 2015. It is demanding the lifting of all sanctions on Iran, including those on the IRGC, and a guarantee of Western investment in Iran, while advancing its nuclear program as much as possible by establishing facts on the ground. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1599, Under President Raisi, Iran Is Hardening Its Positions In Nuclear Negotiations With The U.S. And West, August 30, 2021. It should be clarified that under the 2015 JCPOA just the nuclear sanctions were to be lifted, while the sanctions connected to human rights violations and sponsorship of terrorism, that is, on the IRGC, which were leveled by Congress, remain in effect. These sanctions are separate because Iran refused to include discussion of these issues in its negotiations with the Obama administration for the JCPOA, and also refused to include the issues of limiting the range of its ballistic missiles and its expansion in the region. 

[4], July 25, 2022.

[5], August 1, 2022.

[6], July 20, 2022.

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