JERUSALEM — An unusual survey of Iranian public opinion indicates that 40 percent of Iranians would be willing to give up any ability to produce nuclear weapons in the future in return for the full removal of sanctions.
Such delicate issues are not ordinarily broached by pollsters in Iran, according to experts. Yet perhaps the most surprising detail about the poll was that it was conducted by Israelis.
A strong majority of those questioned — more than 74 percent — agreed that Iran should establish full trade and diplomatic relations with the United States, even though many perceived the United States as Iran’s biggest enemy — with Israel in second place.
“There is a lot of news in Israel about what the Iranians think and want, but nobody asked them,” said Prof. Alex Mintz, an expert in political decision-making and strategic negotiation who heads the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, which carried out the survey.
Professor Mintz said he found the answers to several questions “encouraging,” particularly the number of Iranians prepared to give up military nuclear ambitions, an issue that has long topped Israel’s diplomatic agenda and that Israel views as a potential threat to its existence. Iran, of course, has long insisted that its nuclear project is meant solely for peaceful purposes.
About a half-dozen Israelis of Iranian origin, who speak Farsi as a mother tongue, telephoned the 530 respondents in May and early June without revealing that they were Israelis or from where they were calling. The random phone survey was conducted across Iran. The respondents were evenly divided between men and women, and were from urban and rural areas. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus five percentage points. The response rate was considered high, at about 27 percent.
One of the interviewers described making the calls from the institute in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast. He said he would present himself as working on behalf of the research institute, whose name is similar to one in Tehran. Some seemed surprised at the questions, he said, and asked if the pollsters had permission to conduct the survey. “To some, we gave a false number in Tehran and said they could call back if they wanted, to build trust,” he said. Few said they would.
“We said we were calling from a research center,” Professor Mintz said. “Most didn’t ask for details. To those who did, we said an institute for policy and strategy. Nobody imagined we were phoning from Israel.” The interviewer requested anonymity, saying that he feared for his safety. Born in Iran, he left for Israel at 13 with his family. Now 27 and a student of Middle East studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he recently finished serving in the Israeli Army where his command of Farsi was put to use in an intelligence unit.
He said most calls lasted a few minutes. “People spoke about their problems, about how much they were suffering from the sanctions, about how hard life is for them,” he said.
Professor Mintz added: “This is not about spying or anything. We are a research center. We wanted to know what the Iranians think.”
The survey was formulated and translated into Farsi with the help of an Iran expert who made adjustments to make the questions palatable to Iranian ears.
Only 9 percent said they would be willing to give up the civilian part of the nuclear program for the full removal of sanctions. More than 45 percent said they were not willing to give up any part of the nuclear program.
The poll results are to be unveiled at the annual Herzliya Conference, which opens on Sunday. The conference program includes a simulation dealing with the day after a potential deal between the world powers and Iran.
Israeli officials say they are afraid that negotiations will conclude with a “bad deal” and they oppose one that leaves Iran’s enrichment capabilities intact.
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(via NY Times)