Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned Congress against levying additional sanctions on Iran, warning such action could provoke the regime to pursue nuclear weapons Tuesday in the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing:
JOHN KERRY: There are many people who believe if the regime got into real extremes on the economy, what would happen is the supreme leader will say "I'm not surrendering. We're not ever going to surrender to the ‘Great Satan.' Now we're going to go for the weapon because it's the only thing we can do. We'll dig deeper and go more secret and take whatever it takes but we're going to get it. Because that's all the United States of America understands."
However, the administration has insisted on several instances that Ayatollah Khamenei issued a fatwa against the possession or development of nuclear weapons. Both President Obama and Secretary Kerry himself have cited the alleged religious edict as evidence Iran is serious about negotiating on its nuclear program.
The administration seems trapped by its own logic. Why would the U.S. be concerned additional sanctions could lead to a nuclear bomb if the Iranian regime has already sworn it off?
The answer may be Supreme Leader Khamenei's "fatwa" against nukes does not actually exist, writes Elliott Abrams of The Council on Foreign Relations:
The existence of this fatwa is being used to suggest that Iran my well not be seeking nuclear weapons after all, and this fact would make a successful negotiation with Iran more likely.
The problem is, there is no such fatwa. At least, no one has ever seen it or produced it. A study by the web site MEMRI (full disclosure: I serve on its board) has found that no text of this alleged fatwa exists, nor is it present in any compilation of Khamenei’s fatwas. Khamenei has discussed possession of nuclear weapons in his speeches, especially in a 2004 sermon where he called production, possession, or use "problematic." But a speech is not a fatwa, which is a jurisprudential ruling– and "problematic" is hardly a strong term announcing a prohibition. And the MEMRI analysis continues, "It should further be clarified that in the regime’s records of sermons by Khamenei, there is a clear differentiation between the jurisprudential ones – that is, the fatwas – and the political ones; the regime has placed this particular sermon in the political section, not the jurisprudential section, of the records."
So where is the fatwa? It is more than strange that, with the negotiations under way and the entire world focused on them, Iran has failed to produce a text. It is extremely unfortunate that our highest officials appear to take the existence of this fatwa for granted though none has ever seen it, read it, or had it analyzed by competent experts. Bad staff work, for sure; wishful thinking as well, trying to convince themselves that despite the evidence perhaps Iran really does not seek nuclear weapons after all. But here as always, wishful thinking is a dangerous basis for making national security policy.