Obama: 'Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei Has Issued Fatwa Against Development of Nuclear Weapons'

By Terence P. Jeffrey | March 21, 2015 | 10:34 AM EDT

President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting at the Energy Department in Washington, Thursday, March 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama said this week that the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, has isued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons.

"Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has said that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon," Obama said.

Other administration officials--including Secretary of State John Kerry and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes--have previously referred to the ayatollah's reported fatwa in the context of the ongoing nuclear negotations with Iran.

Last month, in a speech to his air force commanders, the ayatollah boasted of Iran's achievement in enriching uranium to the 20-percent level. Twice during the speech, according a transcript made by the BBC, the air force commanders chanted: "Death to America."

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has testified in Congress that, as Iran's supreme leader, the ayatollah will personally--"singly"--decide whether Iran builds a nuclear weapon.

Obama made his observation about the supreme leader's fatwa in a video statement to the Iranian people about his and First Lady Michelle Obama's observation of the Iranian new year's holiday of "Nowruz." The video was posted on the White House website with Farsi subtitles.

"To everyone celebrating Nowruz—across the United States and in countries around the world—Nowruz Mubarak," Obama said at the beginning of his statement. "For thousands of years, this has been a time to gather with family and friends and welcome a new spring and a new year.  Last week, my wife Michelle helped mark Nowruz here at the White House."

Obama called on the Iranians to help him overcome people in the United States and elsewhere who oppose the nuclear deal he is trying to negotiate with Iran.

"Our negotiations have made progress, but gaps remain," he said. "And there are people, in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic resolution. My message to you—the people of Iran—is that, together, we have to speak up for the future we seek.

"As I have said many times before, I believe that our countries should be able to resolve this issue peacefully, with diplomacy," Obama said. "Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has said that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon.

"Together with the international community, the United States has said that Iran should have access to peaceful nuclear energy, consistent with Iran’s international obligations," Obama said. "So there is a way for Iran—if it is willing to take meaningful, verifiable steps—to assure the world that its nuclear program is, in fact, for peaceful purposes only."

On Sept. 25, 2009, the Obama White House sponsored a background briefing by "senior administration officials" who said that Iran had been discovered covertly building uranium enrichment facilities twice. One was at Natanz, another near Qom.

A "senior administration official" explained at that time why it was logical to conclude that the second secret facility was designed to produce enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon not for peaceful purposes.

"Our information is that the facility is designed to hold about 3,000 centrifuge machines," said the official. "Now, that's not a large enough number to make any sense from a commercial standpoint. It cannot produce a significant quantity of low-enriched uranium. But if you want to use the facility in order to produce a small amount of weapons-grade uranium, enough for a bomb or two a year, it's the right size. And our information is that the Iranians began this with the intent that it be secret, and therefore giving them the option of producing weapons-grade uranium without the international community knowing about it."

Ayatollah Khamenei, who as Iran's supreme leader is commander in chief of the Iranian military, gave a speech on Feb. 8 to the commanders of the Iranian Air Force. In this speech, the ayatollah boasted about Iran's technical accomplishment in enriching uranium to the 20-percent level--which is beyond what is needed for peaceful power production.

“Those who are experts on this matter know that producing 20 percent from 5 percent is much more significant than producing uranium which is higher than 20 percent,” he said. “However, our youth and our committed scientists did so.”

The Congressional Research Service has explained why this is a problem. “LEU used in nuclear power reactors typically contains less than 5% uranium-235,” said CRS, “research reactor fuel can be made using 20% uranium-235; HEU used in nuclear weapons typically contains about 90% uranium-235.”

“Iran’s production of LEU enriched to the 20% level has caused concern because such production requires approximately 90% of the effort necessary to produce weapons-grade HEU, which, as noted, contains approximately 90% uranium-235,” said CRS.

During the speech in which he boasted about Iran's enrichment of uranium to the 20-percent level, according to a BBC transcript, the ayatollah's air force commanders chanted: "Allah Akbar. Khamenei is the leader. Death to the enemies of the leadership. Death to America. Death to England. Death to hypocrites. Death to Israel."