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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We just heard some of what the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had to say before the General Assembly today. For a sense of things in Iran, we're joined by NPR's senior news analyst, Ted Koppel. He's in Tehran on a reporting trip. Hi, Ted.

TED KOPPEL: Hey, Melissa.

BLOCK: You've been there for about a week now talking with government officials and religious leaders. What are they telling you about this ongoing shutdown over nuclear enrichment?

KOPPEL: Well, they make as little of it as they possibly can, pointing out over and over again that under Islam they would never, ever use a nuclear missile in the first place. But what they are never prepared to say is that they therefore would not develop nuclear weapons.

But I must tell you, in the final analysis I get the sense that this is almost a matter of national pride as anything else and if they were able to get from the West, most especially the United States, what they want in other areas, this will not be the be all and end all.

BLOCK: But in terms of consequences, do the Iranians think that they could actually be facing sanctions or even military action if they continue to defy the international community on this?

KOPPEL: Well, they have been facing sanctions as you know for a very long time, and interestingly enough I was talking to someone who was a major figure here in the oil industry for many years and he was pointing out that yes, initially the sanctions were very harmful to the Iranian economy but that bit by bit they have been replacing American technology with Chinese technology, Japanese technology, European technology.

Apparently many of our allies in Europe and in other parts of the world are somewhat less scrupulous about these sanctions than the United States is. And even with U.S. products, there are ways that U.S. products find their way into the Iranian economy, frequently through Dubai.

BLOCK: And military action? What do they say about that?

KOPPEL: I think a couple of months ago, the sense I get here is that they were really concerned about military action. These days they feel it is less likely but they also feel that they have a real deterrence, curiously enough, in Iraq and Afghanistan. They say we don't believe the United States fully appreciates how much reserve we have shown. They clearly have the impression that, most especially in Iraq, they have an enormous amount of influence and that they have been using that influence to keep, believe it or not, the level of violence down.

BLOCK: When President Bush today addressed directly the Iranian people from the United Nations, saying your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and talking about the leaders using the nation's resources to fund terrorism, fuel extremism, I'm wondering whether first the Iranian people would actually get to hear that message and if they did, how it would be received.

KOPPEL: I think with a certain amount of skepticism. First of all, there are satellite dishes here even though they are against the law. This notion of liberty is, of course, a notion on which there might be some disagreement. The Iranian people, I think, would be the first to acknowledge that they feel in many ways constrained, especially by the very, very conservative religious restrictions that are put upon them.

But what goes on behind closed doors here, Melissa, and sometimes not even behind closed doors - I was driving out to the airport the other day and was absolutely astonished to see two Iranian girls, I'd say they were late teenagers, holding onto the side of a car that was doing about 50 miles an hour and they were on skates, racing along with their headscarves firmly clenched between their teeth.

I mean, it was absolute madness, but it is also sort of symbolically a sense of what goes on here and what even the religious authorities are prepared to tolerate as long as people don't want too much political freedom.

BLOCK: Ted, good to talk with you. Thanks very much.

KOPPEL: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's NPR's senior news analyst Ted Koppel, in Tehran.

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