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Poll shows Iranians support uranium-enrichment program

WASHINGTON—Iranians overwhelmingly support their government's drive to enrich uranium to produce electrical power, but they don't favor developing nuclear weapons, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The survey, which also sampled U.S. attitudes toward Iran, found that nearly half the people in both countries thought that American military action against Iran is likely in the next year or two. But only 48 percent of Iranians said they favored direct talks between the governments to lessen tensions, while 79 percent of Americans surveyed thought that direct talks were a good idea.

The poll was conducted for WorldPublicOpinion.org, a U.S.-based international polling organization, in cooperation with Search for Common Ground, an advocacy group that favors a peaceful resolution of the differences between the two countries. Pollsters sampled the opinions of about 1,000 people in each country, with Americans polled via the Internet and Iranians door-to-door. The poll, conducted last month, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

The Bush administration has offered to open direct talks with Iran if it freezes its uranium enrichment program. Iran has refused to do so, and the poll indicated that Iranians support that position. Eighty-four percent of Iranians said the capacity to enrich uranium was "very important," and a majority rejected abandoning the process, even if the United States were to agree not to use force against Iran. Those polled cited the benefits to Iran's economy, its future energy needs and its prestige in the Persian Gulf region.

By 2-1, Iranians said they thought their country should remain a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even when they were told that the treaty prohibits Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And 71 percent of Americans and Iranians said they supported a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East that would include Muslim countries and Israel.

A majority of Americans —53 percent—said they could accept an agreement that allowed Iran to enrich uranium at the low levels needed for nuclear power if Iran gave U.N. inspectors full access to ensure that it wasn't producing weapons-grade fuel.

The State Department said the poll wouldn't change its insistence that Iran stop enriching uranium.

"The international community simply doesn't trust this regime," spokesman Sean McCormack said. "They are . . . saying that they have only a peaceful nuclear program; yet all the indications are that they're actually trying to develop a nuclear weapon under cover of that peaceful nuclear program."

The poll touched some sensitive topics for the Iranian government, and the firm that carried out the survey in Iran refused to ask some questions, said Steven Kull, the editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org and a faculty member at the University of Maryland.

"Would nuclear weapons increase or decrease Iranian security?" was one example. "They didn't like that question," Kull told a conference Wednesday. "Should Iran have a nuclear weapon?" was another question that didn't get asked.

The firm also refused to ask Iranians what they thought of Saudi Arabia, their neighbor across the Persian Gulf.

The validity of the poll wasn't questioned, even among the Iranian regime's strongest critics. Professor Ray Tanter of Georgetown University, who was a senior National Security Council staffer during the Reagan administration, told McClatchy Newspapers that the poll "seems to be legitimate" in reflecting the views of Iranians as moderate people who'd like "some kind of a deal" that would avoid military strikes at its nuclear installations.

He also said the poll was unlikely to put pressure on the Iranian government to compromise on nuclear issues because it was "much less constrained" by public opinion than in the United States.

But he said the same applied to the overwhelming preference that Americans stated for direct U.S.-Iran talks. "I don't think it will have any impact on the Bush administration," he said.

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SURVEY SAYS: Among the findings of the WorldPublicOpinion.org survey of Iranians and Americans:

_84 percent of Iranians say Iran should have the capacity to enrich uranium

_89 percent say it's important for Iran's economy

_76 percent say it will secure Iran's energy needs

_61 percent say it's to enhance Iran's great power status

_66 percent of Iranians say it's a good idea to be a part of the nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty

_60 percent say Iran shouldn't withdraw from the treaty

_68 percent of Iranians say they favor eventually eliminating all nuclear weapons, the treaty's goal

_82 percent of Americans favor eliminating all nuclear weapons

_48 percent of Iranians think it's likely that the U.S. will take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities in the next year or two

_49 percent of Americans think such military action is likely

_79 percent of Americans favor direct talks between the governments

_48 percent of Iranians favor direct talks

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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