Friday, September 01, 2006

Iranians Fear Becoming World's Pariah

Christine Spolar, Chicago Tribune:
Iranians are used to sanctions after struggling with a decades-old ban on doing business with America. What made them bristle Thursday, as the United Nations deadline passed for Iran to halt its nuclear-enrichment program, was the thought that their country could become an international pariah.

"Everyone's worried," jeweler Bahram Mehraban said in his small Tehran storefront, contemplating the possibility of U.N. sanctions. "Only the common people will be hurt. . . . All the important people here will have prepared and (will) still have a luxurious life." READ MORE

With a tough speech from hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran defied the U.N. ultimatum to stop enriching uranium at midnight Thursday, opening the door for threatened sanctions and intensifying Iran's stand-off with Western leaders worried that its aim is to build nuclear weapons.

While President Bush and others called for Iran to be punished for its defiance, U.S. and other officials indicated that no action would be taken until a European envoy meets next week with the head of Iran's nuclear program to seek a compromise.

On the streets of Tehran, ordinary Iranians were quick Thursday to jump into the debate and express their fears about the consequences of Iran ignoring the U.N. demand, even as they defended their country's right to develop its nuclear energy capacity.

Shopkeepers in this capital city's main bazaar stopped their transactions to converse about the dilemma. Shoppers, some buying crystal bowls and others bargaining down the price of jeans, were adamant in defending Iran's quest but downbeat about the rewards of defying world powers.

Few said they doubted that the United States, at odds with Iran since its Islamic revolution more than 27 years ago, would seek to inflict economic pain on the country.

Businessmen feared that sanctions would lead to a steep economic downturn in an already sluggish market. Others wondered aloud about psychological fallout in a country filled with young people eager for possibilities beyond their nation's borders.

None of their worries was eased by the news that their president maintained a strident tone. Ahmadinejad told a crowd of thousands in the northwestern city of Orumiyeh that "Iran will not back down an inch in the face of intimidation, aggression and will not accept being deprived of its rights."

In Tehran, some Iranians' reactions raised questions about the president's boasts of Iranian unity. One husband and wife, married for 30 years, sparred in the open walkway of the ancient market over who was to blame for the latest dispute between Iran and the outside world.

"The capitalists," growled Safar Nazari about the role of the United States in forcing a showdown with Iran. "The mullahs," said his 48-year-old wife Masoumeh, shrouded in black robes, about the clerics who hold sway over most decision-making in the Islamic republic.