A Majority of Americans Reject Military Threats in Favor of Diplomacy with Iran

A Majority of Americans Reject Military Threats in Favor of Diplomacy with Iran

December 7, 2006

Public Now Believes Iraq Invasion Has Increased Likelihood Iran Will Make WMD

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Most Americans believe the United States should seek better relations with Iran, rather than trying to pressure the government through implied threats of military force.

A poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org also finds widespread skepticism among Americans that threatening Iran with air strikes will convince the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop its uranium enrichment program. Nor does the public believe that an aerial bombing campaign would be able to destroy Iran�s entire nuclear program.

The new survey shows, moreover, a major change in American public opinion about the effect of invading Iraq on its neighbor�s nuclear ambitions. In 2003, a large majority believed the U.S. invasion would discourage Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. Today, most Americans say the invasion has made this outcome more likely.

The survey, developed for the Stanley Foundation conference, �Leveraging U.S. Strength in an Uncertain World,� and designed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, was fielded by Knowledge Networks. It included interviews with a nationwide sample of 1,326 Americans conducted Nov. 21-29.

When asked how the United States should deal with Iran, a large majority (75%) prefers trying �to build better relations� with Iran, rather than �pressuring it with implied threats that the U.S. may use military force against it� (22%). This view is endorsed by nine out of ten Democrats (88%) and a majority of Republicans (56%).

Eight in ten respondents (79%) believe that threatening to bomb Iran�s uranium enrichment facilities would not deter the Iranians from continuing their nuclear program, a view shared by most Republicans (77%) and Democrats (85%). They also do not think that the United States could destroy all of Iran�s nuclear facilities with a �campaign of repeated air strikes.� Fifty-nine percent say eliminating Iran�s program this way is not possible, including a majority of Democrats (71%) and half of the Republicans (49%).

A majority of Americans now think that the invasion of Iraq has increased the likelihood that Iran will develop WMD. Asked whether the U.S. invasion and occupation of their neighbor had made Iran more or less likely to pursue such weapons, 61 percent say more likely, including 71 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans. Only a third overall (30%) think Iran is less likely to seek WMD �because it is more afraid� of a U.S. attack.

This represents a major change from the attitudes held by Americans when the invasion was still underway. In April 2003, seven in ten respondents (68%) thought the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would make Iran less likely to pursue WMD, a PIPA survey found. Only a quarter (24%) believed the invasion would make it more likely.

Many Americans appear to be interested in some compromise with the Iranians. If the Iranians give U.N. inspectors full access to their nuclear program, 55 percent think Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium to the very low levels necessary to produce nuclear power, but not to the high levels required to produce nuclear weapons. Endorsement of this idea was bipartisan, including 53 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats.

Thirty-eight percent do not think this is a good idea, however, finding persuasive the argument that letting Iranians enrich uranium could equip them with the �technical experience� to develop nuclear weapons clandestinely.

Americans are less interested in a diplomatic trade-off involving security guarantees to Iran. Asked whether the United States should promise not to attack Iran militarily in return for an Iranian commitment to halt uranium enrichment, Americans are divided. Forty-seven percent favor the argument that the United States should offer such guarantees �on the condition that Iran commits to refrain from enriching uranium.� Forty-five percent believe instead that the United States needs to keep the military option open �because Iran does other things that are negative for U.S. security interests.� Recent statements by Ahmadinejad that seem to threaten Israel may have strengthened support for the latter position.

Half of those polled (50%) believe that the United States should agree to talk with Iran without insisting on the precondition that it stop enriching uranium �against the wishes of the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council.� Forty-six percent disagree. The Bush Administration has insisted on a halt to these activities as a precondition for talks.

Most Americans do not believe that Iran would be better off as a nuclear power. Only a quarter (23%) agree with the argument that nuclear weapons would increase Iran�s security by allowing its government to �threaten nuclear retaliation against an attacker.� Nearly three-quarters (72%) believe on the contrary that Iran would be less secure �because other countries in the region could feel threatened and might want to develop nuclear weapons, too.�


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