Iran’s envoy to IAEA: Nuke bombs would be a ‘strategic mistake’

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, told a press conference that an Iranian nuclear bomb would be a “strategic mistake” and create a “disadvantageous situation” for Iran.

Many Western governments insist that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at creating weapons, a charge Iran denies. The accusation also misses some of the nuance between an Iranian “breakout capability” — the ability to quickly weaponize a fully-realized peaceful nuclear program — and an actual nuclear weapon.

Reuters has the report on Soltanieh’s comments:

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), suggested the Islamic Republic could never compete in terms of the numbers of warheads possessed by the nuclear-armed major powers.

It would therefore be at a disadvantage in relation to these countries if it developed atomic bombs, Soltanieh said.

“That is the reason we will never make this strategic mistake,” he told a conference at IAEA headquarters in Vienna. “We are as strong as those countries without nuclear weapons.”

Iran’s revolutionary leader and subsequently, first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, reportedly used to say that nuclear weapons are evil and kill innocent civilians, which is prohibited by Islam. Therefore, nuclear weapons are un-Islamic.

But a letter from Khomeini, released in 2006 by former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, has challenged this assertion.

The 1988 letter reportedly said that Iran would need nuclear weapons to end the then-long-running war with Iraq, according to the BBC.

Soltanieh’s position gets some support from former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans. In the latest Reuters report, Evans implies that Iran merely seeks a breakout capability:

Gareth Evans, co-chair of an international commission which last year issued a report on eliminating nuclear threats, told the same gathering he believed Iran “is to be taken seriously when it says it will not actually weaponize.”

There are “a number of reasons for thinking that Iran will … stop well short of actually making nuclear weapons that it may soon have the capability to produce,” the former Australian foreign minister said in a speech.

They included the risk of an Israeli attack, zero Russian and Chinese tolerance for an Iranian bomb, even tougher international sanctions and the fact that Islam does not accept weapons of mass destruction, he said.

“This is not a factor to which Western cynics would give much credence but I have to say it is echoed very strongly in every private conversation I’ve ever had with Iranian officials,” Evans, a veteran diplomatic trouble-shooter, said.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.