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September 19, 2014

Support for Nuclear Talks Strong Among Iranians, But Concerns Linger

Washington, DC – A new poll finds that 62% of respondents in Iran support oversight of the country’s nuclear program “beyond what is currently being undertaken” but would reject proposals to “dismantle half of existing centrifuges and…limits on nuclear research activities.” The latter is believed to be a key point of contention in negotiations between Iran and UN powers, as suggested by recent comments by officials in both Iran and the United States.

The new poll, conducted jointly by the University of Tehran Center for Public Opinion Research (UTCPOR) and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), has important consequences for how negotiators handle the nuclear issue during the present talks, according to coauthor Ebrahim Mohseni. Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Mohseni said that trust and the lack of it will be a major issue in Iran. While Iranians generally support a nuclear deal, “some believe that the U.S. wants to achieve other goals and the nuclear program is the U.S.’s excuse.”

The poll also found, troublingly, that only 19% of Iranians believe that the U.S. would uphold a deal and “gradually lift most nuclear-related sanctions against Iran,” while 74% believe Washington would “continue the sanctions and the pressures” for other reasons.

Finding that a “near-unanimous majority (94%)” of Iranians believe that having a nuclear program is necessary, the new poll lends credence to the view that Iranian public opinion is broadly supportive of the positions being advanced by Iran’s negotiators. For instance, Iran’s negotiators have proven willing to compromise on the issue of transparency, but less willing to forgo Iran’s enrichment program or its nuclear research activities.

Steven Kull, the Director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, said that the poll’s findings show that the “Iranians are very normative. Their notions of rights and justice are really crucial” to how they perceive the nuclear issue. That is why, for instance, the wide majority of Iranians are willing to support a nuclear deal that requires a strong verification and monitoring regime, yet outright reject any enduring limits to Iran’s current enrichment capacity or its nuclear research activities. Iran and its people, Kull added, feel strongly that they are being mistreated on the nuclear issue and signal desire for the same rights and obligations as other countries.

Ambassador John Limbert agreed, arguing that Iranians have an intense sense of national pride. Alongside that, he added, Iranians also have a strong desire to be part of the international community. A nuclear deal could realize those ambitions.

Moreover, a nuclear deal could lead the way to a new kind of relationship between the United States and Iran. As Limbert said, “In a reasonable world, the U.S. and the Islamic Republic would not necessarily be friends, but they would at least be able to talk to each other seriously on a range of subjects of mutual interest where there is common ground…”


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