Is U.S. President Barack Obama basing his hopes of reaching a nuclear deal with Iran on an Islamic law that doesn't exist?
Last Friday, Obama mentioned a fatwa, or interpretation of Islamic law, decreed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that disallows the development or use of nuclear weapons. "I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution [because] Iran's Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons," Fox News reported Obama as telling reporters.
However, the Middle East Media Research Institute warns that of yet there is no proof of the existence of such an edict -- the organization is regarding the rumor as an Iranian hoax.
"There is no such fatwa. It is a lie from the Iranians, a deception, and it is tragic that President Obama has endorsed it," Middle East Media Research Institute founder and President Yigal Carmon told Fox News.
"The deception regarding 'Khamenei's fatwa' has been promoted by the Iranian regime and its spokesmen for several years. Each time it was mentioned, the 'fatwa' was given a different year of issue -- for example, 2005, 2007, or 2012 -- but the text of the 'fatwa' was never presented," reads a report on MEMRI's website.
However, University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole, an expert on the Middle East and author of "Engaging the Muslim World," wrote on his website that the fatwa does exist, and that it appeared in a report by Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency in 2005.
"That this old posting has gone into the deep Web and isn't at the IRNA site is irrelevant. The fatwa was announced by IRNA and has been repeatedly reaffirmed by Khamenei," wrote Cole. He goes on to quote a speech in which Khamenei states that the possession of nuclear weapons is a grave sin and to site a U.S. government transcription from 2005 of Iran's statements to the International Atomic Energy Agency, including a mention of the fatwa in the introduction.
Yet, the Fox News website reported that Iranian website Tasnim News, which is linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, published a list of 493 edicts from Khamenei dating back to 2004, and none forbade the development or use of nuclear weapons.
According to the Fox report, MEMRI claims the spurious religious edict has gained traction due to promotion by Iranian diplomats and Turkey's Islamist prime minister, Recep Erdogan.