Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Iranians Happy to Be in the Nuclear Club

Aneesh Raman, CNN News:
The streets of Tehran are packed with people and traffic. To the north, mountains rise over you, still with their caps of snow ahead of the coming summer. But here in the city it's the people who catch the eye.

When you enter Tehran you are struck by how friendly the residents are.

The other thing you encounter in the capital city is immense pride that Iran has joined the global nuclear club -- albeit uninvited. (Watch Iranians describe their joy over their nuclear program -- 2:28) READ MORE

Iranians have invested a great deal of pride in their country's nuclear program, which their government continually emphasizes is for peaceful and civilian purposes only.

We were able to gauge some opinions as we traveled around Tehran in the past few days. We were free to move where we pleased with no government representatives with us as we worked.

The only hurdle was finding those willing not only to talk on camera, but also to be interviewed by a member of the Western media.

There are, of course, any number of significant issues here where you'll find divided opinion. But on the nuclear issue, it seems, there is a sense of uniformity.

Iran entered the nuclear club on its own, announced it with great fanfare and the people feel it is their right, as does the government, to have a nuclear energy program.

When you ask about Western concerns that the program could lead Iran to having a nuclear weapon, Iranians told us they believe the government's assertion it has no plans for nuclear weapons.

The sense we got from listening to the country's leaders -- from the president to the chief nuclear negotiator -- was that Iran will not cease enriching uranium and if Tehran is penalized by the United Nations, it will cut off cooperation with the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The leaders intimate that this is not mere defiance but standing firm on an issue that is their country's inherent right.

Iran is a country in desperate need of economic reform and that seems to be a critically important issue among the people. Some 70 percent of the population is below the age of 30, many of them educated but with no work.

Unemployment is conservatively estimated to be about 12 percent. So anything that can bring about jobs is welcome. The government has convinced the people that a civilian nuclear program will do that by generating electricity, surpluses of which could be sold to other countries.

While the tensions between Iran and the international community seem to rise, in Tehran there is no sense of heightened alarm.

Instead the friendly, proud people on the streets seem resiliently patriotic about their nuclear program and ready for whatever may come next.