Concern Grows in Iran over U.N. Economic Sanctions

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The U.N. Security Council is inching closer to a vote on imposing economic sanctions on Iran for its continuing enrichment of uranium. Iran is reacting with growing alarm to the prospect of U.N. sanctions. If adopted, the sanctions would initially be moderate.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The United Nations Security Council is getting closer to a vote on economic sanctions against Iran. That would be Iran's punishment for its continuing enrichment of uranium. Now the plan is to prohibit the sale to Iran of nuclear technology and to impose travel restrictions on some Iranians connected to the nuclear program. Even if those sanctions were approved, they would initially be moderate, but they are causing alarm in Iran.

NPR's Mike Shuster is in the capital Tehran.

MIKE SHUSTER: Iran's leaders have been defiant for months on the nuclear issue. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has given countless speeches in which he has declared Iran will never give away its right to nuclear technology. But there have also been fitful, and so far unsuccessful, negotiations over this issue with Germany, France and Britain. All this time, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have kept close track of Iran's known nuclear facilities.

We've had troubles, concedes Raham Garamanpoor(ph) of the government-run Center for Strategic Research, but he says there is still time to work out this problem without sanctions.

Mr. RAHAM GARAMANPOOR (Center for Strategic Research): We believe that the sanction is illegal according to the international law and many trends in international relations.

SHUSTER: Several independent experts of different political views made the same argument over and over again - that sanctions will only make the situation worse and could strengthen the case that some hardliners make privately in favor of acquiring nuclear weapons. Even some conservatives don't want to see that happen.

Amir Mohebian is one of Iran's best-known conservative columnists.

Mr. AMIR MOHEBIAN (Columnist): The best way for solving the Iranian nuclear problem is not having sanctions against Iran. Only, I think, the best way is dialogue and negotiation with Iran.

SHUSTER: Negotiations between Iran and the Europeans broke off in September without any progress. The Bush administration has said it is willing to engage Iran on this issue, but only if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment first. The Iranians reject this precondition. In the meantime, the Iranian government has continued to build its nuclear infrastructure. It now has built two small cascades of gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium. And it has actually enriched a few grams of uranium to a level that could be used only to fuel the nuclear reactor. The U.S. intelligence community says Iran is five to 10 years away from acquiring enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb.

Political scientist Nasser Hadian of Tehran University argues there's no need at the moment to press this issue toward confrontation.

Professor NASSER HADIAN (Political Science, Tehran University): (Unintelligible) is not dangerous now. Obviously, they are talking about so little enrichment of uranium under the total control of the IAEA.

SHUSTER: Hadian notes that many Iranians believe it is the nation's right to acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. But he says very few want the bomb.

Prof. HADIAN: There are many people among the elite inside the government and outside the government who want honorable, peaceful resolution of the problem. There are very few people in Iran who want Iran to make a program to be weaponized.

SHUSTER: Even some who favor greater democracy in Iran and who would like to see Iran's relations with the United States restored, reject American pressure.

Ibrahim Yazdi is a former foreign minister of Iran and a leader of the Iran Freedom Movement, an opposition group.

Mr. IBRAHIM YAZDI (Iran Freedom Movement): The United States government has failed to show any evidence that Iran is after the atomic bomb. Besides that, many Iranians, they believe that Americans, they are exaggerating the danger of an Iran having atomic bomb.

SHUSTER: The Iranian government has begun to take steps designed to protect the nation from economic sanctions. Although Iran is an enormous producer of oil, it must import much of its refined gasoline, so it could be vulnerable to an embargo on gasoline sales. This is not part of the current sanctions resolution, but the Iranian government is already planning to ration gasoline next year and is in the process right now of distributing ration cards. As for the prospect of resuming negotiations, right now there is no plan to restart talks either with Europe or the United States.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tehran.

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