Iran's former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani reportedly admitted that Iran began its nuclear program with the intention of pursuing nuclear weapons capability.
In a lengthy interview with state-run IRNA news agency – which does not appear on the agency's English-language website – Rafsanjani recounted how the decision to launch a nuclear program began during the bloody Iran-Iraq War.
The Persian-language interview, apparently republished from the former president's own personal website, was translated by a leading Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
"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," Rafsanjani reportedly said.
He qualified that Iran's "basic doctrine was peaceful usage of the nuclear technology," but added: "we never abandoned the idea that if one day we are threatened and it is imperative, we would have the capability for going the other path [to nuclear weapon] as well."
Rafsanjani also revealed how the regime had sought the help of Pakistan's notorious rogue nuclear scientist A Q Khan, who is believed to have sold nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Both he and Ayatollah Khamenei – Iran's current Supreme Leader, who was then a senior official in the regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini – traveled to Pakistan to meet him.
"There were some talks with the Pakistanis. There was a nuclear scientist called Abdul Qadeer Khan in Pakistan… In a trip to Pakistan, I asked to see him. They did not show him to me," he said.
Despite not meeting Khan himself, he said that after a while "it seemed that Mr. Abdul Qadeer Khan himself believed that the Islamic World should have the nuclear bomb. He believed in this and it was he who built Pakistan’s nuclear bomb although it took time to build the bomb. In any case, they agreed to help us a bit."
"We implemented part of our nuclear activity when we were still at war and Iraq was close to securing enrichment when Israel destroyed all of it," he said, referring to Israel's daring raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility which destroyed Saddam Hussein's nascent program.
Describing Iran's own previous failed attempt to bomb Osirak, he continued: "Of course, the first time it was on 20 September 1980 that our air force used four fighters to bomb the nuclear facility in Osirak that was almost completed and about to receive fuel.
"Those years, we were all thinking that we should arm ourselves with deterrent elements since the war was not about to end and in our defensive policies we had the word of Imam [Khomeini] in mind that the war may last 20 years," Rafsanjani said, in what the NCRI claimed amounted to an admission of the "regime’s intentions to acquire (a) nuclear weapon."
Iran has repeatedly denied that its nuclear program is meant for anything other than peaceful uses, although few in the international community believe this, pointing to elements of the program which have no use other than for building nuclear weapons.
Last July, Tehran signed a historic accord with world powers to slightly curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, in a deal vociferously opposed by most of Iran's neighbors, who insist it essentially legitimizes Tehran's nuclear program and paves its way to nuclear weapons at some point in the future.
Rafsanjani served as Iranian president between 1989-1997, and was a key supporter of current President Hassan Rouhani during his 2013 campaign.