Middle East

Impasse Persists over Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

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Diplomatic efforts to resolve external concerns about Iran's uranium enrichment program are making little progress. Meanwhile, the domestic political tone is Iran is influenced by a fierce spirit of nationalism and independence.


This week the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council met in London to try to work out a deal with Iran that offers incentives to halt their nuclear program and threatens punitive actions if they do not. Meanwhile, inside Iran, the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is proving almost as controversial as it is internationally.

NPR's Mike Shuster joins us from Tehran. Mike, can you bring us up to date on the nuclear issue?

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

The problem is that for the United States, the United States is willing to negotiate or see negotiations proceed with Iran. Once Iran stops its nuclear activities, the Iranians here say, we won't stop it, we want the international community and especially the United States to recognize our right to do this, then we'll talk.

Meanwhile, there were hints that Iran, some Iranian officials, want direct contacts with the United States, but that seems to have been dismissed by the White House so far.

WERTHEIMER: Michael, how popular is President Ahmadinejad inside Iran? Is there a good way to tell?

SHUSTER: There are no real reliable polls about his popularity. He regularly travels around the country and gives speeches to quite large crowds, so the government is able to generate crowds that are enthusiastic. Still, there are a lot of people in the middle class and especially here in Tehran when you start talking to people, who don't like him, and what's interesting also is that there are initial signs of discontent among students.

Here in Tehran, at Tehran University, I was talking to students earlier in the week and there were leaflets that were distributed around the school that were titled The University is Not a Garrison, and these were complaints about the new policies of the administration appointed by President Ahmadinejad, more police and security guards and more unpleasantness between students and security guards. Now, this doesn't look yet like a large movement, but clearly students, some students, are not happy with the present state of affairs on campus.


What about restrictions on social behavior under Ahmadinejad? We've heard about a stricter dress code for women.

SHUSTER: Apparently there's a bill in the Parliament to impose a much stricter dress code on women. There's a lot of concern about it here. Women already are restricted in what they can wear in public. They wear the hijab, which is the headscarf. Many women wear the full black cover, the shadoor(ph), and it appears the conservatives in the Parliament want to make this stricter. It's a little unclear where Ahmadinejad stands, actually. He was elected as a hardliner who campaigned wanting to go back to the original Islamic values of the Islamic Revolution 27 years ago. But he's turned out to be somewhat of a populist and he's taken not a very strict attitude toward social behavior and a dress code. But there are Ayatollahs that are unhappy with the way women dress and are unhappy with the way young men and women in the cities interact publicly, and so that there's an uneasiness about whether this government is going to make social life harder, at least social life in public harder.

WERTHEIMER: What about the nuclear issue? How do ordinary feel about this difficult negotiation between Iran and the Western powers?

SHUSTER: Again, this is hard to gauge precisely, but when you talk to people, particularly educated middle class people in Tehran, what they say is that they don't understand why the United States wants to deprive Iran of nuclear technology, because it's seen as progress here. They don't say they want nuclear weapons. They're split on that. They don't necessarily support the right wing Ayatollahs they may want a bomb or Ahmadinejad's tough line. But they also don't like it when the United States and the Europeans tell them what to do. Iran is a very nationalistic country when it comes to outside pressure, and you can feel that when you talk to people here.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mike Shuster reporting in Tehran. Mike, thanks very much for speaking to us.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Linda.

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