Poll Finds Iranian Support for Nuclear Power, Not Weapons

A poll released Tuesday shows that Iranians are still strongly in favor of continuing their government’s nuclear program, but are open to compromises which would permit uranium enrichment while allowing international inspectors access to ensure that no bomb-making activities are taking place if sanctions are dropped.

Meanwhile, Iran hawks in the United States are pushing the Barack Obama administration to put unilateral sanctions and military options "on the table" for ending Iran’s nuclear program

The poll’s release comes as the Obama administration is being subjected to increasing pressures to invoke sanctions against the Islamic Republic, as well as facing uncertainty about Israel’s willingness to use military force against Tehran’s nuclear programs.

It is also under pressure from some Republicans to openly discuss unilateral military options to destroy Iranian nuclear targets if sanctions and diplomacy fail to reach their desired outcomes.

The poll, released by WorldPublicOpinion.org (WPO), found that 31 percent of Iranians favored an agreement to stop uranium enrichment if sanctions were dropped; 34 percent insisted that Iran should continue its enrichment activities but favored an agreement to permit access by inspectors to nuclear facilities to ensure that no bomb-making activities were taking place in exchange for the removal of sanctions; and 22 percent opposed both of the above solutions.

Six in 10 Iranians believe that economic sanctions are having a negative impact and seven in 10 say they believe sanctions will be further tightened if Iran continues its nuclear program in its current form.

"Though most Iranians are feeling the bite of economic sanctions and expect them to tighten, only a third are willing to negotiate away the right to enrich uranium," said WPO director Steve Kull. "However, two-thirds are willing to make a deal that would preclude the development of nuclear weapons."

While the Iranian public, according to polling data, seems open to a negotiated end to the nuclear weapons program in exchange for a rollback of sanctions, lawmakers in Washington plan to push for sanctions legislation in the House of Representatives despite warnings from critics that unilateral sanctions from the U.S. may undermine attempts from the White House to engage Russia and China to participate in multilateral sanctions.

"Congress is not actually giving the president an opportunity to pursue his diplomacy. Instead they’re pushing sanctions bills on the White House," National Iranian American Council president Trita Parsi told IPS.

"I don’t think the Obama administration can watch the sanctions pass while simultaneously walking the diplomacy path. Once it goes down the sanctions path it will end the diplomacy path," said Parsi.

Furthermore, unilateral sanctions will target European companies that do business in Iran, creating a potential wedge between the U.S. and its European allies on Iran policy and in the U.N. Security Council.

Sanctions legislation, led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard L. Berman, would penalize companies which have more than 20 million dollars invested in Iran’s petroleum sector.

Berman’s bill might be accompanied to the floor of the House within weeks by another bill sponsored by Steny H. Hoyer, another Democrat, which would support state efforts to divest from companies which are invested in Iran’s petroleum industry.

The sanctions legislation could potentially derail critical talks between Iran, the United States, the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Germany (P5-plus-one) which are set to begin Oct. 1. While Iran has proposed a wide-ranging agenda, the Obama administration, backed by the EU3 – France, Britain and Germany -has made clear its top priority is to curb Tehran’s nuclear program

Washington has indicated it will push for the imposition of "crippling" economic and other sanctions if the talks do not make tangible progress toward that goal by early next year.

Hawks in Washington have been eager to suggest that the upcoming negotiations will be the final test of Iran’s willingness to end its nuclear program and that a failure for significant diplomatic progress to come out of the talks would spell the end of U.S. attempts to negotiate with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government.

But some Iran specialists, persuaded that the regime in Tehran has been weakened internally by the post-election unrest, have argued that Ahmadinejad, whose appearance at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week is expected to attract thousands of protesters, may be more eager to compromise at the negotiating table in order to shore up his position at home.

Last week brought the release of the hotly anticipated Bipartisan Policy Center report "Meeting the Challenge: Time is Running Out", which suggested that the time for diplomacy was running out and "that a credible and explicit threat of the possible use of military force needs to be put back on the table in our discussions with Iran," according to hawkish independent senator, Joseph Lieberman, at the launch of the report.

The report’s authors went so far as to suggest that a failure of the U.S. to act against Iran’s nuclear program could result in Israel launching a unilateral attack.

"A key reason for the Obama Administration to (consider a US led military strike) is to convince not only Tehran, but also regional allies, that it is fully committed to preventing the Islamic Republic’s acquisition of nuclear weapons capability," said the report. "Otherwise, we increase the probability that Israel, believing it faces an existential threat, will take matters into its own hands."

The idea that Israel, which is largely dependent on the US for military aid, would act unilaterally and against U.S. wishes to attack Iranian nuclear sites seems a distant possibility but a useful scenario for neoconservatives to reiterate in order to increase pressure on Obama to invoke unilateral sanctions and put military options on the table.

The report was authored by Daniel R. Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana, Charles S. Robb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia, and Charles Wald, a retired air force general. All three are known for their hawkish views on Iran and see little room for compromise with a regime they refer to as an "existential threat" three times in their 26-page report.

The authors have published op-eds over the past week in both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, two of the most influential papers both in Washington and nationwide.

The message of the report seems to have resonated with Brett Stephens who writes the weekly Global View column in the Wall Street Journal and, last week, titled his column "Obama is Pushing Israel Towards War."

"(T)he longer the U.S. delays playing hardball with Iran, the sooner Israel is likely to strike," wrote Stephens.

Despite dire warnings that "time is running out", polling of Iranians on sanctions and their nuclear program suggest that there might be considerable room for negotiation if multilateral diplomacy is allowed to move forward.

Serious questions also exist about predictions from hawks in Washington that Iran will have enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon by 2010.

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis Blair told Congress in February that Iran is unlikely to be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon until at least 2013.

Blair also noted that there is "no evidence" that Iran has even made a decision to produce weapons-grade uranium.

(Inter Press Service)