Update to this story.

White House stands by alleged anti-nuke fatwa in Iran — USA Today

President Obama’s claim that Iran is disposed toward ending its nuclear standoff because of a legal pronouncement by its leader may be a hoax, according to a Middle East research group.

Some critics warn that Iran’s offer to hold talks over its nuclear program is a ruse, to stall for time while it finishes up the fuel enrichment process for an atomic bomb. Others say Iran is also hoping to halt attempts by Congress to strengthen U.S. economic sanctions.

But President Obama welcomed Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s promise not to seek nuclear weapons and told reporters the negotiation offer was worth pursuing.

“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,” Obama told reporters.

But a Washington-based Middle East research group says there is no evidence such an edict exists.

“An exhaustive search of the various official websites of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei turned up no such fatwa, either on his fatwa website or on his personal website,” according to the Middle East Media Research Institute, which tracks and translates news and official reports from the region.

MEMRI says the fatwa was first mentioned by Sirius Naseri, an Iranian representative to a meeting of the U.N.’s nuclear agency in 2005. It was later mentioned in 2012, in an opinion piece in The Washington Post by Iran’s then-foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, and in Iran’s Mehr news agency by the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani.

But MEMRI says it appears the Iranians were not telling the truth, according to its president, Yigal Carmon.

“It’s a whole campaign,” Carmon said. “They cannot deliver anything real, so they deliver a story about the fatwa but they don’t really have it.”

Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for Obama’s National Security Council, said the president’s comment stands. When asked why the White House believes the fatwa exists, Hayden declined to comment.

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