Iran may pursue nuclear weapon, intel minister warns West

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with army's air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. Iran's supreme leader said the U.S. must lift all sanctions if it wants Iran to return to its commitments to the nuclear deal with Western powers. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with army's air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. Iran's supreme leader said the U.S. must lift all sanctions if it wants Iran to return to its commitments to the nuclear deal with Western powers. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

TEHRAN – Iran’s intelligence minister warned the West that his country could push for a nuclear weapon if crippling international sanctions on Tehran remain in place, state television reported Tuesday.

The remarks by Mahmoud Alavi mark a rare occasion that a government official says Iran could reverse its course on the nuclear program. Tehran has long insisted that the program is for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation and medical research.

A 1990s fatwa, or religious edict, by the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei states that nuclear weapons are forbidden.

“Our nuclear program is peaceful and the fatwa by the supreme leader has forbidden nuclear weapons, but if they push Iran in that direction, then it wouldn’t be Iran’s fault but those who pushed it,” Alavi was quoted as saying.

“If a cat is cornered, it may show a kind of behavior that a free cat would not,” he said and added that Iran has no plans to move toward a nuclear weapon under current circumstances.

Israel has long accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, and the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers put strict limits on Iranian nuclear activities to prevent it from reaching weapons capabilities. In exchange, Iran was given sanctions relief.

Then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, prompting Iran to resume some of its nuclear activities. The new Biden administration has signaled it would like to revive the deal, raising concerns in Israel.

The Israeli military estimates that Iran is still two years away from reaching the capability of producing a bomb. But in a briefing with reporters, a senior military official said the army believes Iran has made “significant progress” in collecting fissile material and research and development. He said the army is especially concerned about “irreversible” progress, such as the knowledge it has gained from using sophisticated centrifuges. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing an intelligence assessment.