Iran has sought to spell out in its clearest terms yet that it is not seeking nuclear weapons, highlighting a religious decree issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that bans nuclear weapons.
The latest reference to Khamenei's declaration is seen as a bid to close the door on debates that Iran may have carried out atomic bomb trigger tests as inspectors from the UN atomic watchdog were on their way to Tehran for a new round of discussions.
Iran authorities have often cited Khamenei's religious edict, made more than seven years ago, in attempts to counter Western suspicion that Iran could be moving toward nuclear arms. But Iranian leaders now appear increasingly desperate to reopen talks with world powers as a possible way to ease sanctions.
Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast touched on a cultural rift between the Islamic Republic and the West, saying the United States and its allies do not understand the significance of the edict.
"There is nothing higher than the exalted supreme leader's fatwa to define the framework for our activities in the nuclear field," he told a press conference.
"We are the first country to call for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons," he said. "When the highest jurist and authority in the country's leadership issues a fatwa, this will be binding for all of us to follow. So, this fatwa will be our top agenda."
Mehmanparast said Westerners "don't have an accurate understanding of Islamic beliefs and fatwas issued by great scholars," suggesting that the US and its allies must take Khamenei's edit seriously.
To highlight its seriousness, he said Iran is willing to "register the fatwa as an international document".
Although Iran views Khamenei's 2005 fatwa as a binding declaration, the West and its allies have repeatedly accused Iran of using any tactic to prolong the stand-off and possibly advance its nuclear capabilities.
The West wants Iran to stop enriching uranium to a level that could be turned relatively quickly into the fissile core of nuclear arms. Iran denies such aspirations, insisting it is enriching only to make reactor fuel and to make isotopes for medical purposes.