Page last updated at 10:33 GMT, Tuesday, 24 May 2005 11:33 UK

Iranians back drive for nuclear power

By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (C) visits an uranium conversion facility outside the city of Isfahan
Securing nuclear power has become a question of national pride

As nuclear talks between Iran and Europe are approaching crisis point, Iranian television has started showing a series of long advertisements telling people why they need nuclear power.

The appeal is highly nationalistic. "The achievements of our young scientists are another step forward in our struggle for independence," the presenter says.

There are pictures of men in white coats with test tubes and scenes of great engineering feats mining uranium ore blended with the Iranian flag and national anthem.

But what do ordinary Iranians make of this relentless drive to master nuclear technology?

The backbone of the country's economy is Tehran's bazaar - a vast covered wholesale market.

Our leaders are for peace. Today if they are trying to get atomic energy for us, it is for the advancement of the country
Mohammed Sadegh Khamechchi
Carpet trader

For several years traders have enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity.

In the carpet section, men are busy everywhere moving piles of rugs on trolleys - counting money and sipping little glasses of tea, while hawkers peddle hot Iranian bread just out of the oven.

"Our leaders are for peace," says carpet trader Mohammed Sadegh Khamechchi.

"Today if they are trying to get atomic energy for us, it is for the advancement of the country," he says. "If one day the oil runs out or it's no longer profitable to refine it, then we will have something to replace it without being dependent on other countries."

But Mr Khamechchi says if a compromise cannot be reached, then Iran will have to stand up to the superpowers alone and if it comes to that, the whole nation will back its leadership.

Not all the carpet merchants want to air their views in public for fear that their outspokenness might affect business.

All say they back Iran's right to nuclear technology, but privately some say not at any cost.

National pride

On the other side of town is a market of a different sort selling hi-tech computers, the latest iPods for storing music, software and electronics imported from the West.

Consumerism is flourishing in Tehran after the difficult years of the revolution and the war with Iraq.

It is hard to find anyone in Iran who will question the need for nuclear power in a country with huge oil and gas reserves and potential for generating hydropower

Iraj Azari, sales manager in a Panasonic shop, knows how politics can affect his life - he lost his job in America after 11 September and had to return home to Iran.

If nuclear talks between Europe and Iran break down, Mr Azari says he will be worried: "If a resolution is not reached, obviously it will have a direct effect on the economy."

He also says that after the war and sanctions Iranians "have had enough; it's time for the authorities to negotiate a peaceful solution - that would be best for everyone".

Despite Mr Azari's reservations, it is hard to find anyone in Iran who will question the need for nuclear power in a country with huge oil and gas reserves and potential for generating hydropower.

It has become a question of national pride and a red line that no politician will cross.

Little room for compromise

Top Iranian nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani has repeatedly said the resumption of enrichment-related work will go ahead - even if it has been put on hold for one last round of talks with Europe.

"We have to resume some of our nuclear activities; we are discussing the timing and details, but the message for the international community is that it is definite that we will do this in the future," Mr Rohani told state-run television recently.

But there are hardliners in Iran who criticise Mr Rohani for not having been tougher with Europe before.

A recent editorial in the hardline newspaper Jomhuri Islami said: "After two years of negotiations regarding the nuclear issue, even the most naive figures of the country have understood that the Europeans don't want anything else except our defeat."

The hardline-dominated Iranian parliament recently passed a bill obliging the country to develop nuclear fuel.

There was no time limit in the law, but the Iranian government is now legally obliged to pursue enrichment.

And that means the room for compromise with Europe is shrinking.

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