Iranians Want Nuclear Power and U.S. Relations

Behzad Yaghmaian talks with Renee Montagne about the competing factions in Iranian politics. The majority of Iranians support the government's call for nuclear energy. But, at the same time, many support a normalized relationship with the United States. Yaghmaian is the author of Social Change in Iran: An Eyewitness Account of Dissent, Defiance, and New Movements for Rights.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And the U.S. had agreed in principle to those talks abut Iraq with Iran. This comes at a time when U.S. policy makers are seeing a broad international diplomacy effort on the nuclear issue in Iran, and signs of debate among Iran's leaders.

Here's National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.

Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (United States National Security Advisor): We are, I think, beginning to get indications that the Iranians are finally beginning to listen. And there is beginning to be a debate within the leadership, and I would hope a debate between the leadership and their people, about whether the course they are on is the right course for the good of their country.

MONTAGNE: That's National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley speaking last week.

Joining me to talk about Iran and its leadership is Behzad Yaghmaian. He is the author of Social Change in Iran: An Eyewitness Account of Dissent, Defiance, and New Movements for Rights. Hello.

Mr. BEHZAD YAGHMAIAN (Professor of Economics, Ramapo College of New Jersey; Author): Hello.

MONTAGNE: Now, we just heard the National Security Advisor talking about a debate among Iran's leaders. How much of a debate is there?

Mr. YAGHMAIAN: There is a lot of debates. The main debate amongst Iran leaders is how to deal with the West and particularly how to deal with the United States--whether to pursue the route of crisis creation and conflict, or the route of normalizing the relationship. This is really what is being debated.

MONTAGNE: And is the debate between reformers and conservatives?

Mr. YAGHMAIAN: It is a debate between the reformers and the conservatives, also a debate within the conservative camp. I mean, these lines are very convoluted in Iran. Today, what we see is a following: that within the conservative camp, a difference has emerged in terms of the approach to the west and the way to sustain the Islamic republic.

MONTAGNE: At the moment who has the upper hand? It would seem to be the conservatives because Iran's president Mahmud Ahmadinejad is a conservative, very outspoken and very provocative. Is that the case though?

Mr. YAGHMAIAN: Yes. If you take a look at the difference between the reformists and the conservatives, the conservatives have the upper hand, of course. But within the conservatives, we need to look at to see what line within the conservatives has the upper hand. It appears now in the past week or so that Ahmadinejad's line of provocative diplomacy and crisis creation is being somewhat pushed aside by other factions within the conservative group.

MONTAGNE: Now, does that translate to pragmatic conservatives and...?

Mr. YAGHMAIAN: Oh, you could say that. You could say that there is a group of pragmatic conservatives that have wanted to gain more momentum and power for Iran, but now they're saying that the policies that Iran pursued in the past few months have led to the opposite result.

MONTAGNE: We've been hearing that Iranians of all classes and cutting across ideologies, support the nuclear ambitions of this government mostly because, as a matter of national pride. Is that the case as you see it? Could that be changing?

Mr. YAGHMAIAN: It is the case. I don't think that will be changing. The Iranian population, although it is very much against the Iranian government and especially this new faction, Ahmadinejad and people around him, at the same time because of being bullied by the United States, they support Iran's ambition to build nuclear energy and this is across the board and I...

MONTAGNE: Now, nuclear energy versus, though, nuclear weapons?

Mr. YAGHMAIAN: Yes, I mean, the distinction between the two is not clearly made in Iran. And, you did not ask that, but I think as someone who wishes to see a democratic government in Iran, I think the best thing that can happen in Iran, one thing in terms of it's relationships with the United States, is for the United States to leave Iran alone. Any type of intervention or gesture from the United States in the past has led to a further repression of freedom of expression in Iran, a further stifling of the reform movement in Iran.

MONTAGNE: Thank you for joining us.

Mr. YAGHMAIAN: Surely, thank you.

MONTAGNE: Behzad Yaghmaian is a professor of political economy at Ramapo College in New Jersey and author of Social Change in Iran: An Eyewitness Account of Dissent, Defiance and New Movements for Rights.

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