Iranians want end to sanctions, short-lived poll finds

 TEHRAN -- In a rare glimpse of public opinion in Iran, more than 60% of respondents to an online survey on the website of the state television news channel said they would favor Tehran ending  uranium enrichment activities in exchange for the gradual removal of international sanctions.

The poll results seem to run counter to repeated declarations by Iranian officials that the public is solidly behind the controversial nuclear enrichment program.

The responses could reflect public dissatisfaction with rising prices and Iran’s foundering economy, which has been battered by successive waves of Western-led sanctions, most recently targeting the key petroleum export sector.

The  news site that conducted the poll, irinn.ir, removed the results from the site under opaque circumstances. There was no trace of the poll on Wednesday, a day after the results were posted and some Persian-language media began reporting on the findings.

Observers say that conducting such a survey on a sensitive national security issue -- and then posting  in on a state-run website -- was rare in the autocratic Islamic Republic.

But irinn.ir did carry a news item Wednesday that called into question the results of its own  survey, which featured people responding  anonymously on the Internet. Because only 2,000 people responded, the website declared,  the results did “not represent the whole population of Iran.”

Instead, website readers were asked to weigh in Wednesday on a different poll:  a survey about a  popular Iranian soccer team, its new coach and its chances of winning the cup in the local league.

Later, several semiofficial news sites disputed the results of nuclear-enrichment poll, saying that the initially reported count was mistaken. Fewer than one-quarter of respondents actually favored ending nuclear enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief, the semi-official sites reported.

And in another twist, the Associated Press reported Wednesday that  Iranian state TV charged that the British Broadcasting Corp.'s  Persian-language service had hacked into its website to change the results of the poll to make it appear that respondents favored dumping nuclear enrichment if that would lead to a reduction in sanctions. The  BBC said in a statement that the claims were “both ludicrous and completely false, and the BBC Persian Service stands by its reporting,” the Associated Press reported.

According to a Radio Free Europe report, the nuclear survey asked respondents which approach they favored in dealing with Western sanctions against Iran. Respondents  were given three choices.

Almost two thirds, 63%, chose option No. 1:  Iran should relinquish  its uranium enrichment efforts in exchange for the “gradual removal of sanctions,” according to the Radio Free Europe summary. The remaining respondents were split between  backing hard-liner demands for a retaliatory shutdown of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for Middle Eastern oil exports, or  retaining “nuclear rights” and continued “resistance” against “unilateral sanctions.”

The United States and the European Union have in recent months bolstered sanctions against Tehran because of its contested nuclear program. Iran has vowed never to bend to sanctions and to continue with its nuclear development, which Iranian officials say is strictly for  peaceful purposes. Western and Israeli  officials suspect that Iran is attempting to develop an atomic bomb.

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 -- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

 
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