Most Iranians support Ahmadinejad and nuclear power, poll finds

Most Iranians support Ahmadinejad and the country's nuclear program, even as they favor restoring diplomatic relations with the US.

A recent public opinion carried out inside Iran by the non-partisan group World Public Opinion yielded some surprising results, including wide-spread support for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the nuclear program he is expected to vigorously defend in a speech at the United Nation's today.

The telephone poll, overseen by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 64 percent of Iranians in Iran have "a lot of confidence" in Ahmadinejad and that 81 percent are either somewhat or very satisfied with "the process by which the authorities are elected in this country."

The "confidence" rating closely tracks the controversial official results from the June 12 presidential election: 63 percent voted for Ahmadinejad.

But when respondents were asked who they voted for, only 55 percent said they'd chosen Ahmandinejad. Only 14 percent said they'd voted for Mousavi (compared to 34 percent in the official election results).

And an unusually high 24 percent refused to answer this poll question.

Ahmadinejad's June reelection was marred by widespread allegations that he had rigged the vote, and led to massive street protests against the outcome. The street action has largely been suppressed by the arrest of hundreds of political prisoners, and there have been persistent allegations of systematic rape and torture of dissidents in government custody.

One well-regarded analysis of the election concluded that there was widespread fraud in favor of Ahmadinejad and it's a point that supporters of his defeated challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, have repeatedly returned to. But the new poll found that assumed widespread disenchantment with Ahmadinejad and the theocratic state led by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may in fact be more narrow.

The poll found 42 percent of Iranians have "a lot of confidence" in the Guardian Council, the group of clerics that oversee the government, and that 29 percent have "some confidence" in them. And 76 percent of respondents said Ayatollah Khamenei was correct to throw his support behind Ahmadinejad after the election.

The poll found that a majority of Iranians support the country's pursuit of nuclear power, with 55 percent of respondents saying they support the development of nuclear power plants and 38 percent supporting the development of "both atomic bombs and nuclear power." On an agreement to stop enriching uranium in an exchange for an end to sanctions, 55 percent said they would oppose such a deal while 31 percent said they would support it. All this despite the expectation of 70 percent of Iranians said that international sanctions will likely be increased if the nuclear program continues.

To be sure, there's no guarantee that respondents are always honest in telephone polls. In a tightly controlled state such as Iran, some Iranians clearly have reason to fear sanctions from the state for unacceptable views voiced on lines that may be tapped. This was o a landline telephone survey (no cellphones were called), which typically tend to skew the results toward older participants.

Still, the poll also elucidates some unusual positions.

Though 60 percent of Iranians favor full, unconditional negotiations with the US and 63 percent favor a restoration of diplomatic relations, 75 percent also say that imposing American culture on "Muslim society" is a US goal and 81 percent say weakening and dividing the Islamic world is a US goal.

On US military actions, there are also some surprises. Perhaps given the Sunni Taliban's hatred of Shiites, the predominant Muslim sect in Iran, just 26 percent of Iranians approve of attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. Iranians appear evenly split on the question of Iran "cooperating with the US to combat the Taliban operating in Afghanistan near Iran's border," with 43 percent favoring such a course and 41 percent approving.

"My question is what it all means, particularly with regard to the recent election and its aftermath,'' former US diplomat and Iran expert Gary Sick wrote on his blog. "And this report is overflowing with anomalies and contradictions."

How likely is it that Iran will develop a nuclear bomb soon?

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