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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006, 02:29 GMT 03:29 UK
Clear about Iran - but not the answer
By Jonathan Marcus
BBC diplomatic correspondent

According to the BBC World Service opinion poll on Iran's nuclear intentions, international opinion has drawn some surprisingly clear conclusions.

Pie chart

There is some considerable comfort to Western policy-makers who have been in the vanguard of efforts to bring pressure upon Iran to halt its nuclear programme.

By a significant majority, people in the 25 countries in which this opinion poll was carried out do not accept Iran's protestations that its nuclear activities are purely for civil purposes.

On average some 60% of those questioned believe that Iran is also trying to develop nuclear weapons.

This view is held by a majority in 19 of the 25 countries in which this poll was conducted.

This is a strong indication that in the battle for influence - the war of competing messages if you like - it is Washington's view that is prevailing, and Iran's nuclear research is indeed seen as being a preliminary to a weapons programme.

Down to diplomacy

So there is concern among international public opinion but just how much?

Pie chart

Majorities in every country polled say they would be concerned if Iran developed a nuclear bomb.

Indeed in some nine countries, including the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Israel, Canada, Brazil and Germany, a majority would be "very concerned" at such a development.

But concern is all very well - what do people think should be done?

And here there is far less comfort for those who back a tough line against Tehran.

Concern does not translate into a demand for firm international action.

There is little enthusiasm for military strikes against Iran if it refuses to halt its nuclear programme: on average only 11% back military action.

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Even the idea of imposing economic sanctions garners only modest support. The most popular approach is to use only "diplomatic efforts" to win the Iranians around.

There is, of course, no real indication in this poll as to what should happen if diplomacy fails.

And that is the problem. For the moment international opinion and the approach being taken by the European Union trio of countries - Britain, France and Germany - who are leading efforts to bring Iran back to the negotiating table, seem to be broadly in tune.

Diplomacy is the order of the day - partly because there has been a glimmer of movement from the Iranians and partly because there is no credible alternative policy available.

Sanctions challenge

However the signals coming from Tehran are ambiguous to say the least.

Three planned meetings have now been postponed between top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

This could be due to indecision among the Iranian leadership itself.

The Bush administration seems for the moment to be relaxing the pressure to push for UN sanctions against Tehran.

But without some substantial signal from the Iranians, this pressure will be quickly re-applied.

This still leaves the problem of winning support for some form of sanctions. That is not going to be easy on the Security Council.

And if this poll is anything to go by, it is not going to be easy to convince public opinion either.

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