March 31, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1080

U.S. Secretary Of State Kerry In New And Unprecedented Statement: 'President Obama And I Are Both Extremely Welcoming And Grateful For The Fact That [Iranian] Supreme Leader [Khamenei] Has Issued A [Nonexistent] Fatwa' Banning Nuclear Weapons

March 31, 2014
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1080


In a March 22, 2014 Voice of America interview marking Norooz, the Persian New Year, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that he and President Obama were "grateful" that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had issued a fatwa banning the possession, development, and use of nuclear weapons. The following are excerpts from the interview:

"Question: Supreme Leader Khamenei, who is [sic] fatwa is mentioned, is being mentioned again in the President's Norwuz message, [but he] still says Americans are not trustworthy. How important is this fatwa in your opinion, the nuclear fatwa?

"John Kerry: Well, I have great respect for a fatwa. A fatwa is a very highly regarded message of religious importance. And when any fatwa is issued, I think people take it seriously, and so do we, even though it's not our practice. But we have great respect for what it means. And – but the trick here – the trick – the art, the requirement here, is to translate the fatwa into a legally binding, globally recognized, international understanding. And so I hope that's achievable. And I think it's a good starting place. And President Obama and I both are extremely welcoming and grateful for the fact that the supreme leader has issued a fatwa declaring that [emphasis MEMRI's]. That's an important statement. But now we need to take that and put it into a sort of understandable legal structure, if you will, that goes beyond an article of faith within a religious belief or a process into a more secular process that everybody can attach a meaning to."[1]

No Such Fatwa Was Ever Issued; No One Ever Saw It And The U.S. Administration Never Asked To See It

While U.S. administration officials affirm, praise, and frequently refer to a fatwa issued by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that bans nuclear weapons, this fatwa has never been seen, and as a number of MEMRI reports have pointed out, the fatwa in fact does not exist. Additionally, the U.S. administration has never even requested to see this fatwa or sought to have it published in a public forum.

MEMRI has published the following reports on the nonexistent fatwa:

Kerry Calls For "Translat[ing] The [Nonexistent] Fatwa Into A Legally Binding, Globally Recognized, International Understanding"

It should be mentioned that while Secretary of State Kerry skips the step of obtaining proof of the fatwa's existence, he calls on Iran to "translate the fatwa into a legally binding, globally recognized, international understanding" and to "put it into a sort of understandable legal structure... that goes beyond an article of faith within a religious belief or a process into a more secular process that everybody can attach a meaning to."

Iran's Official Position: The Fatwa Is An Alternative To Everything Kerry Proposes In His Statement

However, the official Iranian position is that this fatwa – which MEMRI has proven to be nonexistent – is an actual alternative to everything that Kerry proposes in his statements above, and that it is also a preferred alternative to international law.

For example, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization director and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who is very well acquainted with the nuclear negotiations, said at a February 19, 2014 Iranian National Conference on Nuclear Law in Tehran marking "Khamenei's issuing of his historic fatwa banning nuclear weapons": "This historic fatwa can be treated as a legitimate document, with validity equal to the validity of the text of international treaties."[2]

Majlis speaker Ali Larijani, who is close to Khamenei, told the Omani parliamentary speaker on December 5, 2013 that Khamenei's nuclear fatwa "is more important than [state] law, because unlike the law it cannot be changed."[3]

Additionally, in an article in the Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs periodical, Iranian Foreign Ministry official Sirjani-Shahabi Farhad[4] stated that this fatwa means that Iran's commitment to a ban on nuclear weapons is greater and more comprehensive than what the NPT requires. Furthermore, he claimed that the fatwa "complements and offers additional and incontrovertible assurances nationally and internationally over and above those provided by the NPT," because while the NPT is "intrinsically discriminatory" the fatwa is not.

He wrote: "The commitment undertaken by Iran via the fatwa, is, in some important respects, more comprehensive and more long-lasting than that [which] Iran has undertaken under the NPT... The fatwa's commitment is unilateral and unconditional. Moreover, the commitment undertaken by Iran, via the fatwa is, in some respects, more comprehensive than that via the NPT.

"Guided by the Supreme Leader's fatwa, the Islamic Republic of Iran would unilaterally, for all times and under all circumstances, refrain from producing, acquiring, stockpiling and using all sorts of WMD, including nuclear weapons. Although [its] terminology differ[s] from [that of] the NPT, to which Iran has been committed since its inception in 1968, the fatwa bans Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, with measures and wordings clearly both not less comprehensive or less restrictive than those set by the NPT.

"In this sense, I believe, with regards to Iran, [that] the fatwa complements and offers additional and incontrovertible assurances nationally and internationally over and above those provided by the NPT. Though the NPT is intrinsically discriminatory – dividing the member states into nuclear-haves and nuclear-have-nots, this weakness is further amplified, through a politically selective treatment of its articles..."[5]


[1], March 22, 2014.

[2] Kayhan (Iran), February 19, 2014.

[3] ISNA (Iran), December 5, 2013.

[4] Sirjani-Shahabi Farhad served as Deputy Permanent Representative at the Geneva Mission (1982-1985) and Ambassador to Zimbabwe (1986-1989). He was Director of the United Nations Department (1989-1993) and Director of Disarmament and International Security Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1996-1998). He also served as Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, Vienna (1998-2008). Currently he serves as Senior Expert at the Legal and International Department of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and is also a member of the academic board of the School of International Relations affiliated with the Foreign Ministry.

[5] Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, Summer 2013.

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