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The Farda Briefing: For The First Time, Iran Raises The Possibility Of Building A Nuclear Bomb

The interior of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant near Qom, Iran. (file photo)

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm Mehrdad Mirdamadi, a senior editor and journalist at RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Here's what I've been following and what I'm watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

In a break with policy, Iranian officials have started talking publicly about the possibility of the country building a nuclear bomb.

After Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against nuclear weapons in 2005, officials were adamant that Tehran’s nuclear program was strictly for civilian purposes. But the rhetoric has shifted in recent weeks.

Kamal Kharazi, a senior adviser to Khamenei, suggested on July 17 that the country was capable of making a nuclear weapon but that a decision on whether to do so had not yet been made. A video posted on a Telegram channel affiliated with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on July 29 asked the audience, “When will Iran’s sleeping nuclear bomb wake up?”

The channel claimed that the underground Fordow enrichment facility was able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon. Those claims were echoed on August 1 by Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran's atomic energy organization.

Why It Matters: The recent statements are unprecedented. It could be an attempt by Iran to gain leverage and concessions at the negotiating table. Protracted talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers have been deadlocked for months. On the other hand, Iran could simply be revealing its intentions to become a nuclear power.

When discussing the nuclear issue, Iranian officials in recent years have cited the Islamic notion of taqiya, in which believers can conceal their faith in the face of persecution. In other words, you can achieve your original purpose in secret.

What's Next: It is hard to believe that these statements were made without the consent of Khamenei, who has the final say on all important state matters. The supreme leader’s aim could be to restore public faith and pride in the country’s nuclear program and showcase the Islamic republic’s resolve. In this way, if Iran does agree to recommit to the nuclear deal, Khamenei can save face.

When the original agreement was signed in 2015, he hailed the country’s “heroic flexibility.” Since then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the deal in 2018, the agreement has been on life support. This time, Khamenei has resorted to what some have described as “defiant perversity” in his dealings with the West.

The hardening rhetoric that has emerged in recent weeks is likely to continue. On August 2, lawmaker Mohammadreza Sabaghiyan openly threatened that if “bullying from the enemy continues, we will ask our leader to change his fatwa in favor of making a bomb.”

Stories You Might Have Missed

• Iranian authorities amputated the fingers of a man convicted of theft using a guillotine machine. Amnesty International called it an "unspeakably cruel punishment." Puya Torabi had fingers cut off on July 27 inside Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

In May, authorities amputated the fingers of another convict, Sayed Barat Hosseini, without giving him anesthetic, Amnesty said, revealing that at least eight other prisoners in Iran were at risk of having fingers amputated. Finger amputation as punishment for theft has reemerged recently amid a rise in petty crime and worsening economic conditions.

• Iranian security agents halted a music concert in Tehran while the musicians were on stage playing, in another sign of the crackdown authorities are waging against events they deem contrary to Islamic values.

According to a video published on social media on July 29, the members of the band Kamakan were performing when a security guard suddenly came on stage and told the band's singer: "Stop! We were ordered to stop this!”

Following a recent uptick in social protests, dozens of concerts and cultural performances have been abruptly called off.

What We're Watching

Iran’s judiciary and prison authorities are depriving inmates of access to proper medical care to put more pressure on them. Among those targeted recently have been several prisoners of conscience. Rights activists have said the move is a form of additional punishment.

Last month, female prisoner Sa’da Khadirzadeh was denied postnatal and postsurgical care after she gave birth through a caesarean section. Khadirzadeh’s postoperative bleeding and her infant’s poor health were ignored by prison authorities for days.

Nargess Mohammadi, the jailed human rights activist and lawyer who suffers from heart and lung conditions, has been denied specialized medical care.

Meanwhile, journalist Abbas Dehghan, who had contracted COVID-19, was also denied proper treatment, putting his life in danger.

Why It Matters: Depriving prisoners of adequate medical care will increase the number of preventable deaths that occur in Iran’s prison. According to rights activists, nearly 100 prisoners died between 2010 and 2021 because they did not receive medical attention. Iran has consistently come under criticism from rights watchdogs for overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at its prisons.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your in-box every Wednesday.

Until next time,

Mehrdad Mirdamadi

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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