Iranian Attitudes on Nuclear Negotiations

Publication Date: 
September 2014
Description: 
CISSM/UTCPOR Report
Project: 
Security Cooperation with Iran: Challenges and Opportunities
The Program for Public Consultation
Document Type: 
Articles and Op-Eds

Iran’s Nuclear Program - A near-unanimous majority of Iranians say that it is necessary for Iran to have a nuclear energy program. Seven in ten say that the Iranian government’s purpose in expanding its nuclear capabilities is for peaceful nuclear energy, while one in five say it is also for developing nuclear weapons.

Iran and Nuclear Weapons - Six in ten are aware that as part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has committed to not develop nuclear weapons. Seven in ten are aware that the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa declaring nuclear weapons as contrary to Islam, and the idea of government being guided by religious principles continues to get overwhelming support. An overwhelming majority supports creating a Middle East nuclear free zone that includes Islamic countries and Israel, and three quarters support the goal of the NPT to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

Sanctions on Iran - The sanctions on Iran are overwhelmingly perceived as having a negative impact on the country’s economy and on the lives of ordinary people. Equally large majorities expect that sanctions will increase further if Iran continues to enrich uranium and are pessimistic about getting sanctions reduced even if Iran agrees to tight restrictions on its nuclear program. At the same time, Iranians do not express desperate feelings about the economy. A slight majority rates the Iranian the economy as at least fairly good and only four in ten say it has gotten worse over the last year. In regard to their own economic conditions, a majority see them as fairly good and only one in four say they have gotten worse over the last year. Also, a modest majority puts a higher priority on achieving self-sufficiency than seeking greater trade.

The Nuclear Negotiations - Iranians show a readiness to support their government making a deal on Iran’s nuclear program that includes some key steps sought by P5+1 countries, while also being strongly opposed to some of the limitations that the United States has been seeking.

•    Asked about specific provisions, solid majorities indicate a readiness to consider, as part of a larger deal, Iran providing reassurances never to produce nuclear weapons, accepting more intrusive international inspections to assure Iranian compliance with the NPT, and limiting the level of uranium enrichment to the 5% level, for an agreed upon period of time as part of the comprehensive agreement currently being negotiated between Iran and P5+1 countries.
•    On the other hand, a large majority rejects as unacceptable dismantling half of Iran’s existing centrifuges or imposing limits on nuclear research activities.
•    On other issues, views are more mixed. A slight plurality is open to limits on Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium as a confidence building measure for an agreed period of time, views are divided on a freeze on the number of centrifuges, and a slight plurality opposes committing to not improving the quality of centrifuges for the duration of the agreement.

Iranians are divided about the likelihood of success in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. A large majority say they would not fault Iranian officials if the talks fail to achieve an agreement.

Mistrust and Doubts about Whether Sanctions Would Be Removed - Iranians express high levels of mistrust in the P5+1 countries. More germane, Iranians express high levels of doubt that the United States would remove sanctions, even if Iran were to meet U.S. demands in regard to its nuclear program. Three quarters say that the United States would find some other reason to impose sanctions. This view is related to the perception—held by three in four—that the United States’ main reason for sanctioning Iran is not concern about nuclear weapons but some other motive. Asked what these other motives might be, the most common responses are that the United States seeks to dominate Iran or block its development. Feelings of mistrust and doubts are highly correlated with resistance to agreeing to confidence building measures in the nuclear negotiations.

Relations with U.S. - Views of the United States, especially the U.S. government, continue to be quite negative. These appear to be related to past and present U.S. policies toward Iran much more than to cultural and religious differences. Nonetheless, large majorities favor making efforts to mitigate the conflicts between Iran and the United States and support a variety of confidence building measures. A slight plurality has a positive view of the American people and people-to-people confidence building measures are viewed even more positively. A majority thinks that it possible for Islam and the West to find common ground.

Views of President Rouhani - President Rouhani receives very positive ratings. His foreign minister Zarif also gets positive ratings, suggesting support for Iran’s foreign policy under President Rouhani. Large majorities see Rouhani as having improved the economy. They express optimism that he can further improve the economy, Iran’s internal security situation, and civil liberties. Views are divided on his ability to reach an agreement on the nuclear issue and reduce sanctions. Support for government being guided by religious principles continues to get overwhelming support.

Iraq - In the current conflict between Iraq and ISIS, a substantial majority favors Iran providing support to the Iraqi government. Nonetheless, views are divided about whether Iran should cooperate with the United States to help counter ISIS. Asked about the primary cause of the current instability, more blame the U.S. and Western powers than factors internal to Iraq.

Syria - A large majority has a favorable view of Syria, and a majority approves of providing support to the Syrian government. A slight majority blames the U.S. or Western powers for the current unrest there and only a small number blamed factors internal to Syria.

Views of Other Countries - While views of Iran’s Muslim neighbors, Iraq and Syria, are quite favorable, views of Turkey are more modestly favorable. Views of China and Russia lean to the favorable. Western countries are viewed unfavorably, with Britain and the U.S. viewed unfavorably by large majorities, and lesser majorities being negative toward Germany and France.