Iran's tough stance a hit at home

Iranians held pro-nuclear rally in Tehran Wednesday.

To maximize media impact, Iran's hardline Basiji militia waited hours until the live cameras were rolling to start its pro-nuclear rally Wednesday in front of the British Embassy in Tehran.

Several hundred protesters gathered to declare their support of Iran's controversial nuclear program, and to blast the US and Europeans - who suspect a secret weapons program, and last week voted to refer Iran to the UN Security Council because of reporting violations - with accusations and threats.

But the ready-for-camera vitriol and flag-burning only hints at the breadth of popular support here for Iran's tough nuclear stance, which is complicating Western efforts to convince Iran to give up such technology.

"Our aim is to use this energy, and our nation will not let us forget about it," Mohammad Vadoud Haydari thundered from the podium.

"Confrontation with those bullying Western governments is our legitimate right," added Mr. Haydari, a medical student at Tehran University and a leader of the Basiji, a militia force loyal to the regime. "They should know that not only the interests of the US and Western countries will be jeopardized, but American territory itself shall not be safe from our basijis."

Eggs, tomatoes and stones were thrown at the embassy, and police used tear gas to keep protestors back from the embassy gates. Calling the British embassy a new "den of spies" - the term frequently used to describe the US embassy here, which was taken over in 1979 - the students Wednesday vowed to "repeat" the event.

Uncompromising rhetoric has long been a feature of the Islamic Republic. But while some of the tough talk may echo the bellicose declarations of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hardliners are not alone in embracing Iran's unbending nuclear view.

Iranians across the political spectrum say they welcome Iran's tougher stance, and argue - just like Mr. Ahmadinejad and the clerical leadership - that the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) gives them the right to peaceful nuclear technology and homemade nuclear fuel.

It is a right, they say, that many Iranians will not give up now, whatever the price. "I may not believe in most of what the Basiji and Hizbullahi [another ideological militia] do, but on this issue, you can't divide the country," Ali Fahrbod, an English literature major at Tehran University with gel in his hair and a strip of goatee.

"We all believe [nuclear technology] is our biggest right," says Mr. Fahrbod. "It is the people who want it, not the government. The people are forcing this, and we will not stop until we reach this step."

"How can North Korea, India, Israel, and your country [the US], all have [nuclear technology], and we can't?" asks Mohammad, a tour guide, who with long hair and black shades perched on his head, could not look less like an Iranian ideologue. "This technology is for our progress, our prosperity - it is our right."

President Ahmadinejad set the tone during an address to the UN 10 days ago. "Peoples in the world are subject to nuclear discrimination," he redeclared on Tuesday. "Only those with bad and evil intentions have managed to raise Iran's nuclear program at the [UN] International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA.]"

"Ahmadinejad's rhetoric at the UN was much harsher than anyone expected, and especially angered the Europeans. It's his presidency that has complicated the situation," says Joseph Cirincione, the head of the nonproliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, who was in Tehran last March for a nuclear conference.

"It looks like we're in a nuclear game of 'chicken,' and both sides are not going to change course," says Mr. Cirincione.

Still, Iranian officials say they are willing to keep talking. So far, Iran has been voluntarily abiding by the terms of the "additional protocol" of the NPT, which it has accepted but not ratified. The protocol enables snap inspections of any site.

But members of the conservative- controlled parliament have already drafted a proposal to suspend Iran's adherence to the protocol.

"We will not take any hasty decision," Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said Tuesday. "For the time being, nothing has been determined. Of course, our reaction will depend on what the Europeans will do."

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