Everyday Iranians Nervous About Push For Atomic Power

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

TEHRAN, March 7 -- Iranians are expressing unease about the international showdown over their country's nuclear program, as broad public support for atomic power is tempered by growing misgivings about the cost.

"Yes, it's true. Day by day we get more worried, because the world is against us," said Mohammad Mohammadi, 57, in the doorway of his menswear store in Tehran's central market.

"I'm a businessman and I can see that people like myself are worried. We don't want anything nasty to happen. But at the same time, we want nuclear power. We should have it."

A shopper sizing up the dress shirts in the window agreed.

"We are living in panic, of course. We are not sure what's going to happen," said Azam Mohammadi, 54 and no relation to the store's owner. She wore an enveloping black chador, bespeaking modesty, and both lip gloss and liner.

"I, too, believe this is our right," she said. "We are a country like other countries. But what we are worried about is: We should get it through peaceful means."

The misgivings emerge as the International Atomic Energy Agency, meeting this week in Vienna, considers reporting Iran to the U.N. Security Council for defying demands to suspend specific nuclear activities. The council could impose sanctions or otherwise penalize the government and, in the process, further isolate Iranians already feeling the chill of international disfavor.

"One thing is obvious: If more foreigners come to this country, it means more money, more jobs," said Ahmad Ashuri, whose business making metal screens has declined in recent months along with Tehran's construction industry. "But this nuclear issue means fewer foreigners are coming to the country. Less money.

"If something is our right, we need to talk properly to the world."

Iran's government has worked hard in the last year to project public resolve on the nuclear question. By prolonging negotiations with European powers and the IAEA, Iran gave itself "time to work on public opinion," the government's former chief negotiator said in newly revealed remarks.

"Technically, in comparison to last year, we are in a better position," Hassan Rouhani, the former negotiator, said in a speech made to Iranian officials in October that was printed in the current edition of Rahbord, a publication of the Center for Strategic Studies, a government research center.

Rouhani boasted that Iran had quietly completed a uranium conversion plant at Isfahan while negotiations dragged on. He also said the government gained time to prepare for a Security Council referral, which Rouhani suggested Tehran came to regard as inevitable once the country's nuclear ambitions were exposed in late 2002.

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