While addressing the press during a visit to Egypt, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the ongoing negotiations with Iran over that country's nuclear programs. As he and President Obama have several times in the past, Kerry cited a report that Iran's "Supreme Leader" issued a "fatwa" against the development of nuclear weapons by Iran, a fatwa that remains unpublished according to a recent article by U.S. News. Nevertheless, Kerry said that the United States has "great respect – great respect – for the religious importance of a fatwa." Here are his remarks in context:
Now I want to be very clear. Nothing in our deliberations is decided until everything is decided. And the purpose of these negotiations is not just to get any deal; it is to get the right deal. President Obama means it when he says, again and again, that Iran will not be permitted to get a nuclear weapon. As you all know, Iran says it doesn’t want a nuclear weapon, and that is a very welcome statement that the Supreme Leader has, in fact, incorporated into a fatwa. And we have great respect – great respect – for the religious importance of a fatwa. And what we are effectively trying to do is translate that into legal language, into everyday language within the framework of a negotiated agreement that everybody can understand, which requires everybody to have certain obligations and ultimately be able to guarantee that Iran’s program, its nuclear program, will be peaceful now and peaceful forever.
Given the history of fatwas issued by Iranian leaders in the past, Kerry's "great respect ... for the religious importance of a fatwa" seems curious. The most notorious of these fatwas was issued in 1989 and called for the death of Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses. Although various reports have surfaced over the years regarding the status of that fatwa, as recently as last month a senior Iranian cleric affirmed that it is still in effect. Other fatwas over the years have called for things as varied as the death of Jerry Falwell to prohibitions against members of the opposite sex chatting online.
Secretary Kerry's reference to the "religious importance" of Iran's purported anti-nuclear fatwa seems particularly significant given the vehemence with which Kerry and President Obama deny any connection between the Islamic State and true Islam. Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran as the White House and State Department routinely refer to it, is the most significant state sponsor of terror in the world according to the State Department and has been on the list for over 30 years. Yet the Obama administration exhibits no reticence when it comes to ascribing "religious importance" to a fatwa issued by those in Iran who claim to represent Islam.
The State Department did not reply to a request for comment on this apparent disparity.
In spite of Kerry's glowing reference to the anti-nuclear arms fatwa and its "religious importance," reporters at Kerry's press appearance in Egypt appeared unmoved. Of the four questions asked of Kerry after his remarks, only one addressed the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and that one inquired as to the possible fallout from the letter Senator Tom Cotton and 46 fellow GOP senators to the Iranian leadership.
Margaret Brennan of CBS News inquired, "Given the recent comments by the Supreme Leader as well as some of U.S. allies, do you think that the GOP letter has undermined the diplomacy and made reaching of an agreement that much harder?" Unsurprisingly, Kerry's reply strongly suggests he agrees.