Poll: Iranians Support Nuclear Weapons



WASHINGTON (AP) - Small majorities of Iranians say their country should
develop nuclear weapons and they would live in a safer world if Tehran
possessed such arms, according to a rare public opinion poll of that
nation's citizens.

Yet far fewer Iranians said it was as important to develop nuclear arms as a
long-term goal as it was to strengthen the economy and normalize diplomatic
and trade relations with the West.

The survey, provided to The Associated Press on Tuesday, was sponsored by
Terror Free Tomorrow, a Washington-based bipartisan group that seeks to
reduce worldwide support for terrorism and extremism.

The poll's responses pointed to internal divisions over President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad's international confrontation over his country's nuclear
program. He says the effort is aimed at producing energy, but the U.S. says
he would build weapons and the U.N. has clamped sanctions on Tehran because
of suspicions the work would lead to armaments.

The poll also showed that despite sentiment for re-establishing ties with
the U.S., 58 percent said they support Iran helping finance Shiite militias
in neighboring Iraq, some of which have battled American forces. Two-thirds
said they support providing funds to Muslim groups like Hamas and Hezbollah,
which the U.S. and Israel consider terrorist organizations.

"They want an opening to the West and to the United States," Ken Ballen,
president of Terror Free Tomorrow, said of Iranians surveyed. "And nuclear
weapons, given their other concerns, are their lowest priority."

The group's advisory board includes Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a
contender. Another member is former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind.,
co-chairman of both the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group, which
urged the Bush administration last year to involve Iran in seeking to reduce
violence in Iraq.

Legitimate public opinion polls are unusual in Iran, an Islamic republic
where dress codes and other rules of behavior are enforced. Though there is
some public dissent, religious rulers recently imprisoned hundreds of
students and others accused of threatening the Iranian system.

With face-to-face interviewers sometimes facing arrest, the poll was
conducted by telephone from a nearby country that Terror Free Tomorrow
requested not be disclosed.

Tension has long been high between the U.S. and Iran. Besides the nuclear
dispute, the U.S. has seized some Iranians in neighboring Iraq and accused
Tehran of helping extremists there and throughout the Middle East.

In the survey, 52 percent of Iranians said they favor their country
developing nuclear weapons, with the same percent saying their world would
be safer if Tehran acquires such arms.

Fifty-two percent also said it is important that Iran use its oil and gas
revenue to develop nuclear arms. Yet that compared with nine in 10 who
supported using the money to create jobs, tame inflation, buttress the oil
and gas industry and develop nuclear power.

Iran's struggling economy is beset by soaring inflation and unemployment.
Rising gasoline prices and fuel rationing prompted riots in Iran last month,
shortly after the survey was taken.

The U.S. and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since the U.S. Embassy
in Tehran was stormed in 1979 and American hostages held for 444 days.

Illustrating widespread domestic dissatisfaction, eight in 10 said they
would support electing Iran's supreme leader, who has final say over state
matters and is chosen for life by a small council. About the same number
rated the country's economy poor or fair, while only one-third said
Ahmadinejad's policies for taming inflation and unemployment have succeeded.

The telephone survey, conducted for Terror Free Tomorrow by D3 Systems of
Vienna, Va., involved calls to 1,000 random Iranian adults nationwide.
Interviews were conducted in Farsi from June 5 to 18. The poll has a margin
of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

D3 says at least 90 percent of Iranians are reachable by landline