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Iran: Reformist Student Group Calls For Suspension Of Nuclear Activities

Workers at the uranium enrichment facility in Isfahan (file photo) (epa) Iran's largest pro-reform student group, the Office To Foster Unity (Daftare Tahkim Vahdat), has expressed concern over Iran's political behavior in the crisis over its nuclear program and is calling for "a temporary suspension of all nuclear activities." The student group says in its statement that the tough line of Iranian officials in its nuclear dealings has put the country and the Iranian nation in a dangerous position.

PRAGUE, April 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Last week's announcement by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that Iran has successfully enriched uranium has been met with mixed reactions among Iranian students.

They range from feelings of pride and enthusiasm to skepticism and concern.

"When it comes to the nuclear issue which is tied to Iran's national interests, then Iran's main reformist student group will continue to have a critical view in order to try to prevent a situation that could become [even more] critical."

Celebrating Yellowcake

Following the announcement on April 11, several conservative and the pro-revolutionary Basiji student groups issued statements describing the move as a breakthrough.

On April 16, students at one of Tehran's prominent science and engineering universities distributed pieces of a big yellow cake -- symbolic of uranium yellowcake -- as a way to celebrate the achievement by Iranian scientists.

Others, however, including members of Iran's largest reformist student group, the Office To Foster Unity (DTV), are questioning the wisdom of Iran's latest nuclear move.

The DTV's central committee says in a statement that the Iranian establishment is insisting on "the honor of having achieved the nuclear fuel cycle and the continuation of nuclear activities" at a time when the country is at one of its most critical periods.

The groups warns that Tehran's latest nuclear step could aggravate the sensitivities of the international community over its nuclear program and threaten Iran's national interests.

Not All Approve

Saber Sheykhlou is the spokesman of the DTV's central committee. He says, "The irrational and confrontational behavior of those who are in power has put the country and the nation on the threshold of a war or devastating sanctions; the referral of Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council was the result of Iran's biggest foreign-policy mistake."

Other members of the group who did not endorse the statement also remain critical of Iran's policies regarding the nuclear crisis.

Amir Pakzad, the spokesman of the DTV's Roshangari faction, also believes that Iran's tough line has put the country in a difficult position.

"When it comes to the nuclear issue which is tied to Iran's national interests, then Iran's main reformist student group will continue to have a critical view in order to try to prevent a situation that could become [even more] critical," he said. "We believe that by getting angry and stepping out of the framework of moderation we hand the initiative to the opponent."

Pakzad thinks Iran should cooperate with "international organizations" over its nuclear program and seek a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.

In its statement, the DTV called on Iranian officials to immediately suspend all nuclear activities and to take steps to build trust in the international community.

Mistaken Priorities?

Sheykhlou says Iran should improve its human-rights record. "We believe that the use of nuclear technology for national progress and development is the indisputable right of the Iranian nation but, besides it, there are other rights, like human rights, which have a higher priority," he said. "While the country is facing serious problems -- including a lack of democracy, human rights violations, the country's economy moving toward a crisis situation, and the society suffering from poverty -- the spending of billions of dollars for nuclear purposes is contrary to Iran's national interests."

The DTV wrote in its statement that the nuclear issue, "in the absence of civil society activists, the press, political parties, and groups," and in a situation where heavy censorship prevails, the government makes decisions without consulting the people.

The statement comes at a time when Iranian officials have ruled out any retreat on the nuclear issue and said that Iran is committed to pursue its nuclear activities.

President Ahmadinejad said today that any aggressor would regret attacking the Islamic Republic.

Recent U.S. press reports suggest that Washington is making plans for a strike against some of Iran's nuclear facilities.

The United States has said it wants the nuclear standoff to be solved diplomatically, but U.S. President George W. Bush has not ruled out military action.

The United States accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons, but Tehran has said repeatedly that its nuclear program is peaceful.

(Radio Farda broadcaster Shirin Famili contributed to this report.)

What Would Sanctions Mean?

What Would Sanctions Mean?

Economic sanctions could further undermine Iran's already shaky economy (Fars)

MOVING TOWARD SANCTIONS: If the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran, domestic support for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will wane, according to ALEX VATANKA, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group.
Vatanka told a February 24 RFE/RL briefing that "economic sanctions will hurt the average Iranian" and, consequently, many "will blame the ruling clerics" for making life difficult and "impairing the country's long term development."
Vatanka said sanctions would be a serious challenge to the Iranian government. If harsh economic sanctions were imposed, Iran's poorest population will be hurt the hardest -- and might react "as they did in the 1970s and protest in the streets." Sanctions on travel, Vatanka said, would hurt a many Iranians because "Iran is a nation of small traders" who depend on the ability to travel to earn an income. According to Vatanka, unemployment in Iran is estimated at 30 percent, "so small trading is essential to survival." Although current U.S. sanctions "haven't worked," he said, "Iranians fear an oil embargo." He stressed that "oil revenues are a major part of the economy, so it is critical to look at this sector."
Should negotiations with the European Union and the UN fail, Vatanka believes that Iran would follow a "North Korea model," since Ahmadinejad's base of support among the "Islamist militias" has been "urging withdrawal from the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]." The Iranian government's "tactic" so far, Vatanka said, is governed by the belief that "by shouting the loudest, you'll get concessions [from the West]."


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THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's coverage of the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.

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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 one of the authors 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.