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Iranians Still Debating Nuclear Referendum

By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

Prominent journalist and intellectual Saeed Hajarian, known as the chief theoretician of Iran's reform movement, has said that he is opposed to the idea of holding a vote on the fate of his country's nuclear program.

Iranian intellectual and reformist and member Saeed Hajarian after his release from prison in 2009.

"I am against the talk of putting the nuclear project to a referendum," Hajarian wrote in a statement published on reformist websites. "People who have numerous problems, who are bewildered and in a coma, cannot vote."

Hajarian, who was severely disabled in a 2000 assassination attempt blamed on hard-liners, was apparently reacting to a call in July by former Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri, also a reformist figure, who said that the people should decide on Iran's nuclear activities and the current stalemate with the West.

Nouri said that the "ill-effects, disadvantages, and pressure" that Iran is experiencing over its nuclear activities have passed the acceptable limit and he urged the Iranian establishment to make a "wise and rational" decision to find a way out of the impasse.

"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 in a meeting with students and activists earlier this year. "People should [then] make the final decision about the dispute between Iran and the West."

The call was publicly ignored by Iranian officials who claim that the nuclear program has widespread support.

Iran Nuclear Program

However, Hajarian, an advisor to former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, has stoked the debate by saying that Iranians didn't have a say in the nuclear issue in the first place.

"Did our people vote for this project to be launched so that they would now decide for its suspension?" he asked. "What does it have to do with the people? Those who are in charge are responsible too. Why do we want to drop the responsibility of this project on people who didn't have a say in its start?"

Hajarian and Nouri, who have been both jailed in the Islamic republic, may disagree on holding a referendum on Iran's sensitive nuclear activities, which have left the country facing unprecedentedly tough sanctions.

Nonetheless, the fact that the nuclear program is being debated publicly is of significance, even though it might fall on deaf ears among Iranian authorities.

The Persian website of the BBC reports that Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani said that in the final months of Khatami's presidency a debate was held on holding a referendum regarding the continuation of Iran's uranium enrichment activities.

Rohani indicated that the idea "didn't have strong opponents within the establishment."

According to the report, Rohani said that a "positive vote" by Iranian citizens would have strengthened Iranian negotiators who were dealing with EU countries over nuclear issues.

However, the suggestion was not implemented because of the impending presidential election in 2005.

Many Iranians say they support Iran's nuclear activities, but some have questioned whether the program is worth the price they are paying.

More than 60 percent of the respondents in an opinion poll posted on one of the websites of Iran's state television news channel on July 3 said they were in favor of Iran stopping its uranium-enrichment program in return for the gradual removal of international sanctions.

The television channel later said that hackers were behind the poll's controversial results.

Copyright (c) 2012 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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