Iranians Talk About Their Nuclear Program
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The standoff over Iran's nuclear intentions continues amid a flurry of meetings. One is being held today, where the foreign ministers of the European Union will be getting a report on the latest efforts to get Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program.
We turn now to a conversation about what the Iranian people think. NPR's senior news analyst Ted Koppel is in Iran on a reporting trip today in the city of Isfahan. Good morning.
TED KOPPEL: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now I understand you landed in Tehran a couple of days ago, and you had a bit of a time getting through the airport there as an American.
KOPPEL: Well, it took a little longer than it would take for any other nationality to get through; I was fingerprinted. They didn't have the fingerprinting person there when I got in, so I had to wait for about a half hour. And he doesn't have very much opportunity to do it, so he wasn't that good at it.
MONTAGNE: Well, so you've moved on from that to Isfahan.
KOPPEL: Yes, got out of the airport in one piece.
MONTAGNE: Now that city is an old Persian city.
KOPPEL: It's a spectacular old city, and indeed it once used to be the capital of Persia. These days it's a rather quiet city. It's a much lovelier place than Tehran is. There's a river flowing through the center of the city. And as a matter of fact, I just had a long-time resident of this city tell me in a wonderful line how things have changed.
In the old days, he said, we used to pray at home and go out to drink. These days we drink at home and we go out to pray.
MONTAGNE: Well, let's turn to this whole question of the nuclear debate. As best you can tell, how is that playing out within Iran?
KOPPEL: Well, I've had several conversations with senior mullahs, ayatollahs, who tell me that their approach to it is that nuclear weapons are forbidden under the religious law of Shura and that they would therefore never use a nuclear device. That of course finesses the point of whether they're going to build one. They are not directly responsive on that issue.
MONTAGNE: And what have Iranians told you about their president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? I guess here I'm talking about regular Iranians.
KOPPEL: Well, it all depends. The further up the social scale you go, the more contempt you find for Ahmadinejad, or at least less respect. But when you go down to the working-class people, or out into the countryside and talk to some of the folks who work in the fields, you get a totally different kind of response.
I had one man who was a brick maker and who lives with his wife and two children in a one-room shack. And he just adores President Ahmadinejad because his wife has needed an operation for a couple of years now, he was never able to afford it. But Ahmadinejad has instituted medical reform so that he is able to get that operation, and indeed she was going in for the operation today.
MONTAGNE: And President Bush, what are you hearing about him?
KOPPEL: There's one very interesting thing about the two people which a number of Iranians have raised with me. And that is they see President Bush's devotion to Christianity and President Ahmadinejad's devotion to a particularly conservative form of the Shia religion as potentially presenting a danger. Ironically, both men believing that there may be some from of apocalypse which will lead, in the case of Christianity, to the second coming of Christ. And here they believe in the coming of the hidden imam, the Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam, who is also said to be more likely to return to Earth after the apocalypse.
And what people fear of course is that this may in some religious sense mean that there is going to be a confrontation between Iran and the United States.
MONTAGNE: Well, take care on your reporting trip. Thanks for joining us.
KOPPEL: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel speaking this morning from the Iranian city of Isfahan.