Iranians overwhelmingly support the nuclear deal, seeing it as opening up the possibility for more economic cooperation and dialogue with the West and improving the prospects for democratic reform in Iran.
Iranians are thrilled that their government has reached a preliminary agreement with outside powers and are eager for a final accord, which all parties say they want to conclude by June 30. The possibility that Iran could emerge from its pariah status and begin rebuilding its ties to the outside world has electrified the country.
In Iran, the debate over the nuclear deal is being encouraged by the hard-liners, whose goal appears to be to ensure that the negotiations bring about elite cohesion and maintain the internal credibility and stability of the regime.
Patrick Clawson argues that the shift in Iranian public opinion against the nuclear program was more responsible for bringing Iran to the negotiating table than economic sanctions and proposes ways in which the U.S. could use this to its advantage.
In spite of increasing political tensions within the regime, there seems to be a broad political consensus to pursue the programme along these lines. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, reformists and even the chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani have criticised Ahmadinejad’s more provocative positions, but not the nuclear programme itself. The programme has broad popular support: it is presented and perceived as a national technological achievement. The international discussion, focused on putative military intentions, contrasts strongly with the internal political debate in Iran. The internal perception is influenced by feelings of pride and grandeur, a deeply rooted ideology of independence and, above all, a desire for progress in an area considered crucial for future energy supply. There is a widespread impression that ’the West’ tries to prevent the country from advancing in science and technology. The international position is seen as condescending, intended to keep the country in dependence and tutelage. The regime can count on strong popular support for its argument that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it has a right to develop its own civil nuclear industry as well as a right of access to nuclear technology, stipulated in Article IV. Iranians feel singled out and punished compared to non-signatories Israel, India and Pakistan, which are not penalised – in fact are favoured – notwithstanding their possession of nuclear weapons.
Iran’s young, urban population is modern and relatively well educated, often with direct or indirect knowledge of the Western world, unlike the population of the DPRK. This constituency voted for Rouhani and, earlier, for the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami. These Iranians also supported the Green Movement protests that broke out after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the 2009 presidential election. They welcome the prospects of a nuclear deal that would relieve sanctions and lessen their country’s international isolation. This is a significant constituency that would be mobilized if the government acted in ways that caused any sanctions that had been lifted to be reimposed, for example by cheating on a nuclear deal.