On the positive side, there appears to be strong sentiment for engaging the United States and establishing a more normal relationship. Some 71 percent of respondents favored working with Washington to help resolve the Iraq war, while a mere 21 percent opposed such cooperation. Even more encouraging, 61 percent endorsed “full, unconditional negotiations” between the United States and the Iranian government on an array of issues. Only 28 percent rejected such diplomacy. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other hardliners in Tehran who favor continuing the cold war with Washington have meager public support for their position.
In other venues, I have suggested offering a “grand bargain” to Iran. This would consist of holding out the carrot of lifting economic sanctions and establishing normal political and diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran in exchange for Iran’s agreement to put its embryonic nuclear program under rigorous international safeguards to prevent the diversion of fissile material into weapons production. The poll responses indicate that such a proposal might be received favorably by the bulk of the Iranian people.
At the same time, though, it is apparent that Washington’s current strategy of compelling Iran to halt uranium enrichment runs up against opposition from the Iranian public as well as the government in Tehran. A peaceful nuclear program has overwhelming popular support. Indeed, 86 percent of respondents would like to have U.S. assistance to advance such a program.
More startling — and troubling — is that a majority of Iranians (51 percent) embrace the goal of developing nuclear weapons. Only 39 percent oppose that objective, despite the financial drain and the certainty of international criticism and multilateral economic sanctions. That result indicates that Washington’s quarrel on the issue of nuclear weapons is not merely with the mullahs, but with a majority of the Iranian people.
Those results probably should not come as a great surprise. The mastery of nuclear technology is a matter of national pride to most Iranians, and the pursuit of a nuclear program long predates the Islamic revolution in 1979. Indeed, it was a major policy objective of the Shah of Iran as far back as the mid‐1960s. And the Shah’s program was not confined to the peaceful uses of atomic energy.