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Iran's Reaction to Possible Sanctions

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

For the view from Tehran, we called Washington Post reporter Karl Vick, who's in the Iranian capital. He says Iran anticipated the actions of the United States and European Union.

Mr. KARL VICK (The Washington Post): This has been, you know, sort of a long dance between Iran and Europe and lately Washington, too. It was almost three years ago that, you know, this whole nuclear program was first discovered, that had been going on, you know, in secret for 18 years, and they began negotiating ever since, those last three years. It's been a slow dance, and now they're sort of breaking up.

BLOCK: Help us understand some of the rhetoric coming from President Ahmadinejad. When he says, `They need us'--meaning the US and the EU--`they need us more than we need them,' what does he mean by that?

Mr. VICK: It's basically an expression of his confidence, maybe overconfidence. I mean, he's not much on self-doubt and he's big on pride. Iranians are big on pride. I'm not sure everyone would follow the logic of that expression, but we'll see. Iranians are somewhat worried about being sort of the focus of international attention, but they also sort of feel like they deserve it because they're an important country.

BLOCK: And when you say Iranians, are you talking about average Iranian on the street or anybody who might be conceivably seen as a moderate in Iran?

Mr. VICK: On the question of nuclear power or the right to develop a nuclear program--which right they have, you know, under the, you know, international treaties that they've signed--there really is almost unanimity in Iran. But it's also a question of sort of not wanting to be pushed around. It's a sort of nationalistic, national pride question.

BLOCK: And would that support for the nuclear program hold regardless of whether the program is for nuclear energy, which is what the Iranian government claims, or for nuclear weapons?

Mr. VICK: You get a different answer on that if you talk to sort of regular people. Some say yes, that they have a right to nuclear weapons and they point out that, you know, Israel is widely understood to have them. And `If countries like China and India,' who are sort of in the same neighborhood, `can have them why can't we?' But you'll also hear some people who are not big fans of this theocratic regime say, `Yeah, I think we have a right to them, but not these guys. You know, we don't want the mullahs to have them.'

BLOCK: Thinking about this question of pride and pride in technology, in particular, I saw that Iran's foreign minister has talked about scientific apartheid--I guess, in other words, the idea being that it's unfair to restrict Iran's technological growth.

Mr. VICK: Yeah, that's--you know, there is this sense that they're arrayed against the West here, these countries that already have these technologies and have these weapons and why aren't they entitled to them if they've--you know, if it's a level playing field in the international arena and all the countries are equal. There's also--and this is something about Ahmadinejad. There's a populist kind of brassiness to him that he--I mean, he very much identifies with people like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Castro and the new leftist president Morales in Bolivia, all of whom he called on the same day a couple of weeks ago. And then he and the three of them were all on the front page of the newspapers the next day.

BLOCK: How much apprehension do you think there is in Iran right now with the heightened rhetoric and the state of play and this talk about at least a potential threat of US military strike on nuclear assets if diplomacy doesn't work? Do people in Iran fear that?

Mr. VICK: There's an awareness and some nervousness. I will say there's less of that than there was a couple of years ago when the war in Iraq was new and hadn't gone as badly as it's gone. The insurgency hadn't become the problem there that it's become. And there really was a concern that, you know, we're next or Syria's next. There was much more of a sense of apprehension then than there is now over this crisis.

BLOCK: Just one final note here, Karl, as a sign of how volatile an issue this whole question of Iran's nuclear program is, Iran has now barred the news network CNN from working in the country, and this all has to do with a mistranslation of President Ahmadinejad's speech. Can you tell us about that?

Mr. VICK: Yeah. It's--I mean, the man who was doing the simultaneous translation said--when Ahmadinejad said, `We have a right to nuclear program--to nuclear power,' he said, `We have a right to nuclear weapons.' It's a verbal stumble, and CNN, as soon as it was brought to their attention, apologized for it, and corrected it on the air. But, nonetheless, they've been kicked out of the country. And I'm looking at the--their own state broadcasting Web site right now with their lead story. CNN admits distortion; apologizes. You know, this says something about the thin skins here but also they see this as an opportunity to underscore that Iran is talking about power, not about weapons. That's the agenda.

BLOCK: That's Washington Post correspondent Karl Vick talking with us from Tehran. Karl, thanks very much.

Mr. VICK: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.