Public support for stronger measures, including
possible military strikes, to curb or destroy Iran's nuclear program has declined
significantly in most countries around the world compared to 18 months ago,
according to a new
survey of public opinion [.pdf] released Tuesday by the British Broadcasting
In only three of 21 nations Turkey, Israel, and South Korea covered
both by the new poll and a previous one taken in June 2006 has there been an
increase in public sentiment for tougher measures to enforce UN Security Council
demands that Tehran freeze its efforts to enrich uranium 2006.
In the 18 others, including the United States, support for imposing economic
sanctions or other coercive measures has fallen, while support for a more "softer
measures" defined as not pressuring Iran at all or using exclusively
diplomatic pressure has risen proportionately.
Public opinion in an additional 10 countries that were covered in the new poll
but were not included in the 2006 survey also showed little support for economic
sanctions on Iran to as a means to pressure it to halt its nuclear program and
negligible support for military action.
On the other hand, the new survey found strong support in most countries, including
clear majorities in North America and most of Western Europe for a deal with
Tehran that would permit it to build a limited capacity to produce nuclear fuel
in exchange for a permanent and highly intrusive presence of UN nuclear inspectors
to ensure that it did not develop nuclear weapons.
"Across the board, we found a diminution in support for stronger measures
[to pressure] Iran," said Steven Kull, the director of the University of
Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), which helped design
and conduct the survey, along with the private firm Globescan.
"In the 2006 poll, we found a pretty widespread perception that Iran was
trying to acquire nuclear weapons and that stronger measures to prevent it from
doing so were required," he added. "Instead of a desire to risk a
confrontation at this point, there now seems to be more of a desire to look
for a way out."
Kull, who just returned from Tehran where he conducted a series of focus groups
to gauge public opinion there, said he believed Iranians themselves appeared
ready for the kind of bargain laid out in the BBC survey. "The theme that
very much came through in the focus groups was that they want to have the scientific
knowledge [to produce nuclear weapons], but, at this point, they're not interested
in acquiring them," Kull said. "That mirrors the government's official
line, too," he noted.
The same view was echoed Monday as well in a newly released survey of Iranian
opinion by Terror Free Tomorrow (TFT), an independent U.S. group that conducted
a similar poll just last year.
Its most recent survey found that, while public support for obtaining nuclear
weapons has increased in Iran over the past year to a majority of 52 percent,
70 percent of respondents said they would support an arrangement in which Tehran
would accept strict UN inspection regime and forswear development or possession
of nuclear arms in exchange for aid and normal economic relations with the rest
of the world.
The latest BBC poll covered a total of 31 countries, including, for the first
time, the five Spanish-speaking Central American countries, and queried some
32,000 adults. It was carried out between early November and late January.
Most of the polling, however, took place after the release by the administration
of U.S. President George W. Bush in late November of a National Intelligence
Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear program.
Contrary to its earlier estimates, the NIE concluded that Iran had suspended
one key part of what its authors claimed had been a secret nuclear weapons program
in 2003. Iran has long denied that any intention to develop or obtain nuclear
weapons, either secretly or otherwise.
The release of the report, which U.S. neoconservatives and other hawks have
argued was deeply flawed, nonetheless appeared to put an abrupt halt to efforts
by these same forces both inside and outside the administration to rally public
opinion behind a possible military attack on Tehran before Bush leaves office
in January 2009.
Kull told IPS that he thought the NIE's conclusions and the way they were reported
in the press clearly had an impact not only on U.S. public opinion, but on public
sentiment abroad as well.
Despite that impact, the Security Council earlier this month went along with
U.S.- and British-led efforts to impose some additional economic and financial
sanctions on Iran which so far has rejected two previous rounds of UN
sanctions for failing to heed its demand to freeze its enrichment program.
Unlike the previous rounds, however, several developing countries argued that
the Council should adopt a less punitive approach.
That preference was echoed in the BBC poll, where respondents in key developing
countries, notably Egypt (85 percent), Mexico (80 percent), the Philippines
(76 percent), Indonesia and Kenya (72 percent), and Nigeria (66 percent) said
they believed that the Council should use softer measures to gain Iran's compliance.
Majorities of at least 55 percent in Central America, Western Europe (Germany,
Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Britain), Turkey, Ghana, China, and Japan took
the same position.
Egypt (86 percent) and Mexico (79 percent) were also most supportive of an
agreement whereby Iran could produce enough nuclear fuel for its civilian power
needs in exchange for unfettered access by UN inspectors. Such a bargain was
also favored by a strong majority of respondents in Britain (71 percent); Australia
(64 percent); and Canada (58 percent).
Majorities or significant pluralities in Portugal (59 percent); Italy and Canada
(58 percent); France, Kenya, and Indonesia (56 percent); the U.S. (55 percent);
China (51 percent); Spain (49 percent); and Nigeria (46 percent) also said they
supported such a solution.
Majorities in seven of the countries said such a deal should not be acceptable.
Opposition was strongest in Israel, where 62 percent of respondents said they
opposed it; the Philippines (60 percent); Japan and Turkey (54 percent); South
Korea (51 percent). Half of German respondents rejected the deal; 38 percent
said they supported it.
Israelis were also the leader in supporting "tougher measures" by
the Security Council against Iran. Thirty-seven percent said they wanted more
economic sanctions; 34 percent said they wanted the UN to authorize a military
strike. The U.S. was next-most hawkish; 45 percent of respondents said they
favored economic sanctions, and 15 percent chose the military option.
(Inter Press Service)