Former Iran president indirectly admits country sought nuclear weapons

Rafsanjani: At the time that we started, we were at war and we were looking to have this capability [the nuclear bomb] for the day that our enemy would want to resort to the nuclear bomb.

A MILITARY truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei drives in a parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war in Tehran (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MILITARY truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei drives in a parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war in Tehran
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani indirectly admitted that his country started a nuclear weapons program during the Iran-Iraq War, according to an interview he gave to Iranian media in recent days.
“As I have said, when we started the [nuclear] work, we were at war, and we wanted to have such an option for the day our enemies wanted to use nuclear weapons. This was [our] state of mind, but things never become serious,” Rafsanjani, the head of Iran’s Expediency Council and the political rival of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an interview to the Iranians’ Nuclear Hope website, according to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
“However, we took seriously the nonmilitary uses [of the nuclear project], and so we invested money and did a great deal of work. We worked in various areas and also taught a great deal. We dispatched students and invited scientists and many other things of this sort.”
Rafsanjani continued, “The principle of our doctrine was the use of nuclear [energy] for peaceful purposes, even though we never abandoned [the idea] that if we were some day to face a certain threat, and if it became necessary, then we would have the option of going to the other side [to develop nuclear weapons].
But we did not have a plan to do this, and we never deviated [from civilian use]...”
As MEMRI reports, “Rafsanjani reveals that, during his presidency, he sought to develop the Arak heavy water facility, in the plutonium track, and invested resources in it.” However, later in the interview, Rafsanjani stated that the main use of the plutonium track is “for military purposes,” confirming suspicions that Iran tried to establish a military nuclear project.
Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Washington- based think tank, said the Iranian government’s “long-term strategic objective remains unchanged: developing a nuclear bomb.”
Alfoneh told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, “Ayatollah Rafsanjani supports President Hassan Rouhani’s attempt at reaching a negotiated solution to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program. However, both gentlemen consider the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action a tactical maneuver in the face of the sanctions regime.
“Rafsanjani believes that goal will be reached sooner or later,” asserted Alfoneh, adding, “His revelations are delivered at a time when they no longer risk disturbing the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], which is a done deal, and secure him the prestige of being the father of the Iranian bomb.”
The Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, in an article posted on its website Tuesday said, “The regime was looking to acquire [a] nuclear bomb when it initiated its nuclear program and has never abandoned the idea.”
The article discussed key points from the interview posted on state news agency IRNA on Monday, saying the former Iranian president acknowledged that from the beginning there was a comprehensive clandestine nuclear plan.
The NCRI added that  Khamenei’s reported fatwa banning nuclear weapons was for “foreign consumption.”
NCRI wrote, “This fatwa has never been put in writing by the regime and it deceives no fool but those who are looking for a pretext to justify trade with this bloodthirsty tyranny.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said last year at an interview with the Voice of America’s Persian service, that he and President Barack Obama were “grateful” that Iran’s leader had issued a fatwa banning nuclear weapons.
According to MEMRI, Khamenei never issued an official fatwa against nuclear weapons, at least not one for which there is any official record.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies Iran Project reported on Rafsanjani's interview as published in the Etemad newspaper, where he discussed the history of the country’s nuclear program.
“At some point, we lost faith in the Germans and began thinking of alternative approaches. We had talks with the Pakistanis, a scientist called Mr. Abdul Qadeer Khan.... It was agreed that they should help us a bit – for example, by delivering second-hand first-generation centrifuges, along with some designs – so that we could build it ourselves.”
Rafsanjani also said that at the beginning of their enrichment work, they used Pakistani equipment and placed “a workshop next to it in order to build the components ourselves.”
Asked if anyone had told him to try to build a nuclear bomb, Rafsanjani answered, “All those [who] loved Iran were engaged in nuclear activities [and] engaged in the work because of the nonmilitary advantages of the project. Because of their Islamic ethics, they were opposed to building of the nuclear bomb and we knew that it had no other results but mass destruction.”
“Apart from this, the International Atomic Energy Agency was engaged in inspections,” he continued.
Rafsanjani has had a tense relationship with Ayatollah Khamenei and political hard-liners since two of his children expressed support for the opposition after a disputed presidential election in 2009.
Despite the setback, Rafsanjani has not been shut out of the Iranian political landscape.
He is the head of the Expediency Discernment Council, a body that advises the supreme leader and also resolves disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament.
Reuters contributed to this report.