Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, told a group of Iranians at his home in the capital, Tehran, that his country backs the elimination of nuclear weapons.
“We believe that nuclear weapons must be eliminated. We don’t want to build atomic weapons. But if we didn’t believe so and intended to possess nuclear weapons, no power could stop us,” Khamenei said in comments posted on his website, khamenei.ir.
Iran has recently highlighted a religious decree Khamenei issued more than seven years ago that bans nuclear weapons in an effort to back up its claim that Tehran’s nuclear programme is being used for peaceful purposes and medical research.
Iranian authorities often cite the decree to counter Western suspicions that Iran could ultimately move toward an atomic bomb.
Although Iran views Khamenei’s 2005 fatwa as a binding declaration, the West and its allies have repeatedly accused Iran of using any tactic to prolong the stand-off over its nuclear programme, and possibly advance its nuclear capabilities.
Iran denies such aspirations, insisting that it is enriching only to make reactor fuel and to manufacture isotopes for medical purposes.
Tehran, however, has left United Nations nuclear inspectors empty-handed when it comes to addressing Western suspicions that it is conducting tests related to nuclear weapons. Three rounds of talks last year made no headway on the West’s main demand: That Iran halt its highest-level uranium enrichment.
Iran recently said it had begun installing a new generation of centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, a move that will allow it to vastly increase its pace of uranium enrichment in defiance of UN calls to halt such activities.
Iran is living under stepped-up Western sanctions that include a total oil embargo and banking restrictions that make it increasingly difficult for Iran’s Asian customers to pay for oil deliveries.
Tehran insists that the sanctions won’t force it to give up its nuclear programme.