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Former Iranian Minister Issues Rare Call For Nuclear Referendum

A worker adjusts machinery at a uranium-conversion plant in Isfahan, Iran.
Abdollah Nouri, a former interior minister of Iran and a respected reformist cleric, has called on political leaders to hold a referendum on the fate of the country's controversial nuclear program.

In comments e-mailed to RFE/RL and published on opposition websites, Nouri said that the "ill-effects, disadvantages, and pressure" that Iran is experiencing over its nuclear activities have passed the acceptable limit. He urged the Iranian establishment to make a "wise and rational" decision, based on national interests, to find a way out of the impasse.

“If because of nuclear empowerment -- which is one of the rights of our nation -- other rights are violated, then we should think correctly about the basis and implications of [the nuclear program],” Nouri said.

The West, which has enacted unprecedented sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities, accuses the country of pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Tehran insists that its program is peaceful in nature.

Former Iranian Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri
Former Iranian Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri
Nouri had reportedly first made his call earlier this week during a meeting with student activists at his home in the Iranian capital.

He noted that Iran's constitution identifies referendums as a solution for "important and crucial" matters.

"It is appropriate first for experts [from different fields], regardless of factional affiliations, to talk to the people about the positive and negatives aspects of the continuation of the nuclear challenge with the West and the privileges and limitations that its continuation will bring," Nouri said. "People [then] should make the final decision about the dispute between Iran and the West."

Life Gets Increasingly Difficult

He also referenced past examples in which he said Iran had changed its position as a means of damage control, including the resolution of the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis and the agreement of a cease-fire with Iraq at the end of the 1980-88 war.

The outspoken cleric's rare call can be seen as a challenge to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the ultimate decisionmaker on the nuclear issue and all matters in the Islamic republic.

On July 11, Khamenei dismissed the new wave of sanctions, arguing that previous penalties imposed by the West had "vaccinated" his country against their effects.

For ordinary people, however, the sanctions -- including a recent EU oil embargo and U.S. measures targeting Iran's Central Bank -- are making life increasingly difficult.

Citizens report significant increases in the cost of staple foods and the price of medicines is reportedly soaring. It's also nearly impossible for Iranians to transfer money abroad to pay for studies or purchase goods or services through the international banking system.

Iran's oil exports for the month of July will reportedly be more than halved from last year's regular levels, fueling unemployment and inflation.

A poll posted last week on the website of a state-controlled television news channel showed that more than 60 percent of respondents were in favor of suspending Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities in return for the gradual removal of sanctions.

The results appeared to contradict claims by Iranian leaders, who say the nuclear program has nationwide support.

The website, which removed the poll after it garnered attention, later claimed that a hacker attack was responsible for the result.
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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.