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Iran: Public Offers Mixed Feelings On Nuclear Issue (Part 4)

Iran's nuclear program has become the subject of international debate and concern. Iranian and U.S. officials frequently comment on the issue, and numerous articles and analyses about Tehran's nuclear aspirations are published on an almost daily basis in the international press. But little is known about the views of ordinary citizens. RFE/RL reports on the results of a recent poll, and also speaks with several residents of Tehran to get their opinions about the controversy. ( Part 1 --> looks at what is known -- and unknown -- about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Part 2 --> looks at two separate routes that Tehran might be taking in its alleged efforts to make a nuclear bomb. Part 3 --> /featuresarticle/2004/12/f5a006e7-b8fd-4e69-977f-f4f1aacb325e.html examines diplomatic efforts under way to give Iran trade advantages and technical assistance in exchange for giving up its uranium-enrichment activities.)

Prague, 23 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian officials say the country's civilian nuclear program is a matter of national pride and claim widespread public support for continuing research and development.

According to a poll published in October by Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency, around 80 percent of respondents said they were opposed to halting nuclear activities. More than 65 percent said Iran should continue its nuclear pursuits under any circumstances. And 80 percent believe the United States and other Western countries are pressuring the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to crack down on Iran.

But some observers question the validity of such polls and reject the idea that Iranians are united in their desire for the country to have a nuclear program.

An analyst who travels to Iran on a regular basis -- who wished to remain anonymous -- told RFE/RL that he believes people have mixed feelings about the issue.

"The overwhelming feedback I get from people is ambivalence or mixed thoughts," he said. "They feel that the money could be better spent or that lots of people are not even paying attention. It doesn't affect their daily lives."

Several Iranian citizens interviewed by RFE/RL endorse the view that Iran should continue its peaceful nuclear activities.
"It's [Iran's] legitimate right, and other countries in the region have these possibilities. This is our right. Why shouldn't we use it?"

Hamid is a 54-year-old businessman in Tehran: "It's [Iran's] legitimate right, and other countries in the region have these possibilities. This is our right. Why shouldn't we use it?"

He said he believes the Islamic Republic is not secretly trying to produce nuclear weapons.

Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful and is aimed at producing energy for civilian use. The United States and Israel accuse Iran of pursuing a clandestine nuclear-weapons program.

Ladan is a 45-year-old office manager in the capital: "One thing is very strange for me, and that is why there is so much pressure [on Iran], because I think every country has the right to have some plans of its own, apart from [producing] nuclear weapons. If [nuclear activities] are for peaceful purposes, then there is nothing wrong. Israel now has about 200 to 300 nuclear bombs. Why isn't there any pressure on Israel?"

But she added that it is possible that UN inspections have succeeding in preventing Iran from producing a nuclear bomb: "I don't think Iran has [a nuclear bomb]. But I think that if the inspectors hadn't come to Iran, it would possibly have produced one."

She said the Iranian regime would consolidate its power by developing nuclear weapons, and that's not something most people are in favor of.

Twenty-two-year-old Ali said students at his university do not talk much about the nuclear issue.

"There isn't much talk about it among the youth, maybe only small talk regarding, for example, whether the case has been referred to the Security Council," Ali said. "Otherwise, they don't go into too many details. At Azad University, where I study, it's like that, I think. For students at other universities, the issue might be more important because the atmosphere there is more political."

Ali said he believes Iran is interested in developing nuclear weapons, but said the country should have a nuclear capability only for energy production.

"I think it is something that is necessary," he said. "It means that Iran should by all means have a nuclear capability -- not military nuclear capabilities -- but for producing energy. I think we are after nuclear weapons, but I'm not sure if they've reached them or not."

The analyst who spoke with RFE/RL said inconsistencies in statement by the Iranian government over the past year have convinced many people that the regime is pursuing a clandestine weapons program. But he said most Iranians do not see how a nuclear program can improve their lives and solve problems, such as unemployment and inflation.

Ladan, the Tehran office manager, said she agrees that most ordinary Iranians are concerned with day-to-day problems: "There was some concern about the possible referral of Iran's case to the Security Council [for possible sanctions] because, in such a case, it would be the people who would have to carry the burden on their shoulders. People are facing so many problems regarding the economy; pollution in Tehran, which makes people nervous; terrible traffic jams; unemployment; and other issues. Nuclear activities are really lost among these [other issues]."

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi recently said that while she, too, opposes nuclear weapons, the West would do more good by focusing not on Tehran's nuclear program but on promoting democracy in the Islamic Republic.

"In a country or a society where people supervise decisions and everything else, like a democratic country, the existence of an atomic bomb cannot be dangerous," Ebadi said.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.