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Poll finds 61% of Americans favor cooperating with Iran to contain Islamic State militants

The Iranian flag flies in front of a U.N. building in Vienna where nuclear talks are being held. (Ronald Zak/Associated Press)

A new poll has found that the majority of Americans are in favor of cooperating with Iran to help the Iraqi government beat back militants from the Islamic State.

The poll, conducted by the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy and the Program for Public Consultation, found that 61 percent of Americans favored the United States cooperating with Iran over Iraq, with 66 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans saying they favored such a policy. Fifty-one percent of independents were in favor.

(The Program for Public Consultation) (The Program for Public Consultation)

The question does not go into specifics about what that cooperation should look like. With the Islamic State, a Sunni Islamist militia, taking  control of vast swaths of Iraq and leaving the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki looking powerless, there was discussion about whether the United States would cooperate with Iran, a regional Shiite power with links to Maliki.

In June, Secretary of State John Kerry would not commit to working with Iran, but he said the United States "wouldn't rule out anything that would be constructive to providing real stability."

The high number of Americans who appear to support cooperation with Iran stands out when compared to other polls. In June, 53 percent of respondents in a CBS/New York Times poll supported cooperating “in a limited capacity,” while a separate Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters found only 39 percent of respondents felt the U.S. should work with Iran.

The majority of the poll, conducted between June 28 and July 7, focuses on Iran's nuclear program and the options for dealing with it, including sanctions. In total, the poll found, 61 percent of Americans were in favor of a long-term agreement that would limit Iran's enrichment of uranium and force it to accept intrusive inspections of its nuclear program. A comparatively low 35 percent did not support Iran having any enrichment and would favor new sanctions on other countries to get them to cut their economic relationship with Iran.

Iran and other key players are currently in Vienna in a bid to reach an agreement about the nuclear program. Negotiations are set to continue until Sunday.

The poll, which has a sample size of 748 and a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points, is unusual in that it attempts to simulate the decisions made when drafting policy. Respondents were briefed on issues surrounding Iran's nuclear program and the ongoing negotiations, and then presented with  policy options and asked to evaluate the arguments. They were then asked which of the policy options they would finally recommend: an agreement that allowed some limited uranium enrichment or more sanctions.

The poll generally found broad support for working closer with the Iranian government, though 79 percent of respondents said they have a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable opinion of the government in Tehran.

You can read the full results of the poll here.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.

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