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Iran: Government Remains Defiant, Though Iranians Have Mixed Views On Nuclear Conflict

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian officials remain defiant after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sent the country's nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council. Both Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said a day after the March 8 referral that Tehran will resist any pressure to alter its nuclear plans. Iranian officials say they have the support of Iranians who are not willing to give up their "legitimate right" to nuclear research and development. To find out more about what Iranians think, Radio Farda asked its listeners to express their views.

PRAGUE, March 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Many Iranians say they are worried that the transfer of Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council could lead to sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Some listeners said that sanctions would only hurt the Iranian people, not the government or politicians in general. "The politicians have problems among themselves; why should people [suffer]? [Politicians] should only think about the people," one said.

Bad For The People

One man in Tehran had the same concern: "I would like to say that U.S. sanctions do not have any affect on the government, only people will be under pressure."

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on March 9 that his country will continue its nuclear drive. He said: "Today, the Iranian people and the officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran, more powerful than before and like steel, will stand against any pressure or conspiracy."

In similar comments, Ahmadinejad said in a speech that Iran's "enemies" cannot force the Iranian people to relinquish their rights.

Iran's Student News Agency (ISNA) reported that during Ahmadinejad's March 9 speech in Borujerd, Lorestan Province, thousands of people chanted "nuclear energy is our inalienable right."

Some Support

Ahmadinejad said Iran will not be bullied into renouncing its pursuit of nuclear energy. This Radio Farda listener agrees. He said that Iran should not bow to pressure.

"I'm calling from Tehran regarding the UN Security Council; I think we have to resist," he said. He added that he also believes that despite increasing pressure Iran should continue its peaceful nuclear activities. "Why does the U.S. speak about the rights of the Iranian people such as the right to freedom of expression but it does not recognize a peaceful nuclear program as a right of Iran," he said. "Why should Israel have nuclear weapons but the Iranian people be deprived of having a peaceful program. We should realize that the U.S. doesn't want Muslim countries to have access to nuclear science."

Iran says its nuclear activities are solely peaceful but Washington accuses Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Iranian officials have termed the IAEA decision to forward the Iranian nuclear case to the UN Security Council as "unjust" and said it proves the West's dual attitude "towards nuclear issues in the world."

But some Iranians who contacted Radio Farda believe the referral of Iran's case to the UN Security Council is a result of the Islamic Republic's "hard-line" policies and stances.

Against The Hard-Line

This listener from Lahijan, in northern Iran, seemed to understand the international community's concerns: "Unfortunately in the last five or six months, instead of trying to gain more friends in Europe, we have added to our number of enemies. [Those countries in opposition to Iran's nuclear program] say that if a country that has for the last 27 years chanted 'death to America' and has called for the transfer of another country (eds. Israel) to other regions, gains access to an atomic bomb, then it will definitely put its slogans into action."

This man also believes the Iranian government is responsible for the new phase of the confrontation with the West. "The Iranian establishment claims that nuclear energy is the right of the Iranian nation," he said. "Aren't freedom and democracy the right of the Iranian people? The oil money is not the right of the Iranian people? Why the names of Palestine, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and Syria are included in our annual budget? Are they partners in our oil money or are they from one of Iran's provinces?"

Mehdi, from Tehran, told Radio Farda that the Iranian government is putting its people at the risk of sanctions or even of a military strike. "In my opinion, Iran's nuclear case must have been taken to the UN Security Council, because this regime has threatened the life of 70 million people with its nuclear ambitions," he said.

But officials insist that Iranians consider the country's nuclear program is a matter of a national right.

According to a February survey conducted by the state Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), some 85 percent of Iranian citizens are in favor of a continuation of the country's nuclear activities.

The poll also said that about 75 percent of the citizens called for an expansion of nuclear technology, even in the case of a referral of Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council.

Some analysts, however, warn that if sanctions are imposed the supportive public opinion could change, as many people will not be willing to face the economic pressures.

Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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