In an extremely rare and possible first, a top Iranian intelligence official has signaled that the Islamic Republic could pursue the production of nuclear weapons "if backed into a corner".
It marks a change in tune from Iranian leaders who both in recent years and past decades have consistently repeated Iran's official line which has long seen nuclear weapons as "un-Islamic". Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has within the past two years explicitly declared nukes as "illegal under Islamic law" in line with his predecessor clerics. Tehran has all along maintained its nuclear development pursuits are exclusively for domestic energy consumption.
In comments first reported in Iranian state TV on Tuesday, Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi emphasized, "Our Nuclear Industry is strictly peaceful. Iran's supreme leader said in a fatwah that producing nuclear weapons is against Islamic norms, is haram."
But then the powerful intelligence chief pivoted to a "threat" at a moment of continued standoff with the Biden administration over the restoration of the JCPOA nuclear deal:
"I will only say this: if a cat is backed into a corner, it might behave the way it wouldn't while free. If Iran is pushed in that direction, it will not be Iran's fault. Under the regular circumstances, Iran has no such plans," he said.
Alavi affirmed further: "If they push Iran in this direction, it won’t be the fault of Iran, but the fault of those who have pushed Iran."
Significant— Ali Hashem علي هاشم (@alihashem_tv) February 9, 2021
“Iran’s leader issued a Fatwa that forbids acquiring nuclear weapons. However, if a cat is pushed to the corner, it’s going to react differently to a free cat. If Iran decided to take this path nobody should blame Iran.” — Irans intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi — pic.twitter.com/6qQiFKKIkb
Despite Biden's repeat promises on the campaign trail to 'immediately' restore US participation in the 2015 nuclear deal brokered under Obama, which Trump pulled out of in May 2018, there's currently not even so much as negotiations for reentry underway.
The rival sides are essentially saying "you first" in terms of returning to its terms, with the White House demanding that Tehran lower uranium enrichment levels back under stipulated caps and other terms of the deal.
On Monday Iran's Foreign Ministry released a statement repeating Iran's longstanding position that, "The US was the party to leave the negotiation table and the JCPOA. We wait for the other side to fully fulfill its commitments; then, we will follow the path of returning to our obligations."
Meanwhile the latest report from Reuters suggests the Biden administration is pursuing a strategy of taking "small steps" toward US re-entry in the JCPOA, which would simultaneously require Iran to take significant but piecemeal action in return.