Foreign Policy Blogs

Going Beyond the State- Part 1: Iran

The (WPO) has released a new poll on how Iranians view their nuclear program. The poll has some interesting revelations; the most pertinent being that two-thirds of Iranians would favor their government precluding the development of nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions against Iran.

The poll also found that only one-third of Iranians would be ready to halt enrichment in exchange for lifting sanctions.  However, another third, while insisting on continuing enrichment, would agree to grant international inspectors unrestricted access to nuclear facilities to ensure that that there are no bomb-making activities.

Here is a précis of the WPO poll:

  • 55% of Iranians favor only developing nuclear power as opposed to developing both atomic bombs and nuclear powers or no nuclear program at all.
  • Six in 10 Iranians believe that economic sanctions, imposed by the United States and the United Nations over fears that Iran’s nuclear program might produce an atomic weapon, are having a negative impact.
  • Seven in 10 say they believe sanctions will be tightened if Iran continues its current nuclear program.
  • 55%  of Iranians oppose an agreement whereby the current sanctions against Iran would be removed and Iran would continue its nuclear energy program, except that it would agree not to enrich uranium.
  • 34% favor an agreement whereby the current sanctions against Iran would be removed and Iran would continue to its uranium enrichment program, but would agree to grant international inspectors unrestricted access to all Iranian nuclear facilities to make sure that it is not making an atomic bomb.

Another WPO poll regarding Iranian’s view about the United States revealed that six in 10 favor restoration of diplomatic relations between their country and the United States.  Though the country is not infatuated with Obama.  Only 16 percent say that have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs.  This is lower than any of the 20 countries polled by WPO on this question in the spring.  But trust in Obama is three times higher than the 6 percent of Iranians who expressed confidence in George W. Bush in a 2008 WPO poll.  Unfavorable views of the United States government are down 8 points from the 85 percent unfavorable views in 2008.

Here is a summary of this WPO poll:

  • 63% of those polled say they favor restoration of formal diplomatic ties, with 18% favoring it strongly.  Only 27% are opposed (18% strongly).
  • 60%–favor “full, unconditional negotiations” between the governments of the two countries.  Thirty percent are opposed.
  • Asked specifically about the option of “Iran cooperating with the US to combat the Taliban operating in Afghanistan near Iran’s border,” 43% are in favor and 41% opposed. 12%–say they do not know how they feel.
  • Asked how much they trust Obama to do the right thing in international affairs, only 16% say that have a lot (2%) or some (14%) confidence in him.  Seventy-one percent say that they have not much confidence (14%) or no confidence at all (57%).
  • During a visit to the Middle East in May and June 2009, Obama delivered a speech in Cairo, where he stressed that he respects Islam. Nevertheless, only 25 percent of Iranians are convinced he does. Fifty-nine percent say they think he does not, and 17 percent say they don’t know or refuse to answer.
  • Seventy-seven percent of Iranians say that they have an unfavorable view of the US government, with a remarkable 69 percent saying that they have a very unfavorable view. Seventeen percent have favorable views (3% very).
  • Asked, “In the way US behaves toward our government, do you think US more often treats our government fairly, or abuses its greater power to make our government do what the US wants?”  an overwhelming 85% say the US abuses its power, while just 7% say the US treats Iran fairly.
  • Large majorities think it is a goal of the United States “to weaken and divide the Islamic world” (81%) and “maintain control over the oil resources of the Middle East” (78%)-numbers that have not changed significantly from 2008.
  • Three in four Iranian say that the US has the goal to “impose American culture on Muslim society.”
  • One- fourth of Iranians (25%) now believe it is definitely or probably a goal of the US, up from 12% in 2008. A majority (55%) still do not believe the US intends to see Palestine become a state, though this is significantly lower than the 78% found in the earlier WPO poll.
  • A modest majority has a favorable view of the American people, as 51% say their opinion of Americans is either very or somewhat favorable. Thirty- eight percent say they have an unfavorable opinion, with 31% saying very unfavorable.
  • Only minorities support attacks on US troops in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. Regarding attacks on US troops in Afghanistan, 26% express approval (16% strongly) while 49% are opposed and 18% have mixed feelings. Support for attacks on troops based in Persian Gulf states is slightly higher, with 32% approving (21% strongly); 41% disapprove, and 13% express mixed feelings.


Sahar Zubairy

Sahar Zubairy recently graduated from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas- Austin with Masters in Global Policy Studies. She graduated from Texas A&M University with Phi Beta Kappa honors in May 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. In Summer 2008, she was the Southwest Asia/Gulf Intern at the Henry L. Stimson Center, where she researched Iran and the Persian Gulf. She was also a member of a research team that helped develop a website investigating the possible effects of closure of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf by Iran.