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Public: Iran Developing WMD, Aiding Terrorists

Public: Iran Developing WMD, Aiding Terrorists

by Darren K. Carlson

Last week, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' chief nuclear watchdog, reported that the agency needs more information about Iran's uranium programs and nuclear facilities, and urged Iran to show "proactive and accelerated cooperation" with IAEA inspectors. The agency has not concluded whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but Friday gave the regime in Tehran an Oct. 31 deadline to prove it is not secretly developing nuclear weapons. Given the conflicting information that Iran has provided, as well as the discovery of traces of enriched uranium, the IAEA is expected to push for short-notice inspections.

Meanwhile, the United States is taking an aggressive stance, accusing Iran of violating the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and pushing for "accelerated cooperation." Gallup polling from June 2003* indicates that the American public feels Iran is probably developing weapons of mass destruction. Specifically, 84% think it's very (46%) or somewhat likely (38%), while just 13% think it is "not too likely" or "not likely at all."

Opinions on this subject do have an ideological bent, with conservatives more inclined than liberals to say it is very likely that Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction. A majority of conservatives (55%) say the prospect is very likely, compared to 43% of moderates but only 29% of liberals.

Is Iran Assisting Terrorists?

Shortly following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush declared war on terrorism, and countries that harbor terrorists. The American public appears to be firmly convinced that the second portion of that declaration applies to Iran.

A large majority of Americans (89%) think it is very or somewhat likely that Iran is providing assistance to terrorists, with more than half (58%) falling into the "very likely" category. Just 7% believe it is not too likely or not at all likely that Iran is assisting terrorists.

Again, responses vary according to Americans' ideological orientation, but not to quite the same degree as on the weapons of mass destruction question. Among conservatives, 65% say it is very likely that Iran is assisting terrorists. This compares to 57% of moderates who say it is very likely and half of liberals (49%) who think so.

Bottom Line

Americans generally do not look favorably on Iran as a country; a majority has expressed an unfavorable opinion of Iran every time Gallup has asked about the country since 1989. That negativity is currently reflected in the widespread belief that Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction and assisting terrorists offers more detail about public skepticism regarding Iran. Depending on the Iranian government's response to the IAEA's October deadline, American public opinion on Iran could grow even more negative in the coming months.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 521 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 27-29, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

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