IAEA Rebuke Prompts Mixed Response in Tehran

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Iranian officials deliver a mixed reaction to the IAEA announcement. The cautious response highlights divisions in the government over how to approach the nuclear question.


We go now to Mike Shuster, NPR's Mike Shuster who joins us from Tehran. Michael, thanks for being with us.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

I'm happy to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And Iranian officials made a number of pronouncements in anticipation of this vote today. Are we hearing anything more from President Ahmadinejad and other officials?

SHUSTER: Actually, there's quite a bit of confusion in response to the action at the IAEA in Vienna today. There have been a number of statements by several Iranian leaders, including President Ahmadinejad, that they would start full-scale uranium enrichment, that they would act not to stop voluntary cooperation with IAEA inspectors, that they may even stop listening to the Russians, who have proposed a compromise in all this. But then actually in the hours since the IAEA vote occurred, all of these statements have been denied at the same time. Even the president's statement, the president issued a statement a little while ago that he was ordering full-scale uranium enrichment to begin, and then there was a denial that came through the same agency. So I think the bottom line here is, Scott, there's a good deal of confusion, initially, and it'll take some time to figure out exactly what the stance of the Iranian government will be.

SIMON: Who makes the final decision? Where does power reside?

SHUSTER: It's not an easy question to answer, but in this case power probably doesn't reside in the president's office. The president only took office about six months ago and does not have full control of national security and foreign policy in Iran. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has much more to say about that, and he acts through the Supreme National Security Council, whose head is a man named Ali Larijani. And it is there that decisions will probably be made firmly about what to do about this, and that will come in the next few days, probably.

SIMON: The IAEA seemed to make a point of saying we're going to report you to the Security Council in a month, giving 30 days for something to happen. Is, for example, something like that Russian compromise proposal that would enrich Iran's uranium outside of Iran absolutely beyond the realm of contemplation at this point?

SHUSTER: By no means. Some of the Iranians have said and are saying now that because the IAEA has referred this to the UN Security Council, that the Russian proposal is off the table. But the Russians don't think that it's off the table, and the Russians intend, as I understand it, to continue communicating with the Iranians, perhaps even sending a high level delegation here to Iran to talk to them about it. Given the fact that there is at least a month now for diplomatic maneuvering, I would think that the Russian proposal will get a full airing.

SIMON: And finally, what are some of the range of opinions that you hear on the street about this in Tehran?

SHUSTER: Well, in Tehran a lot of educated people and middle-class people actually are quite uneasy about this. They fear that this is heading toward a crisis and a confrontation. Outside of Iran and perhaps, outside of Tehran and perhaps among Tehran's poorer people and in the poorer neighborhoods there's alot of support for the hard-line position of the Iranian government. But Iranian public opinion is divided, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who are uneasy about where this is going.

SIMON: NPR's Mike Shuster speaking with us from Tehran. Thank you very much, Michael

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Scott.

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