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National Pride Fuels Iran's Nuclear Drive

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The pressure is mounting on Iran, today. The U.N. Security Council is expected to begin consultations on a resolution that calls on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, and agree to open negotiations on its nuclear program. Neither of which, it has done so far.

Diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members, plus Germany, met in Paris yesterday, and talked about the proposal. The U.S., Britain, and France are pressing to include sanctions, but U.S. officials say it could be months before council members reach agreement on the wording of any resolution.

To learn how all of this is playing out in Iran, we turn to Azadeh Moaveni, who writes for Time Magazine in Tehran. Good morning.

Ms. AZADEH MOAVENI (Columnist, Time Magazine, Tehran, Iran): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: How is Iran's news media covering this story?

Ms. MOAVENI: It's not discussed in terms of the government's plans to acquire technology that would provide them with the capacity to make a bomb. The public is really not informed about the full scope of the government activities. And often, it's cast in the official media as the sovereign right of a proud people to have technology that many other nations in the world can have as well.

So, I think it's a fictional debate, with people not really getting to hear the voices of critics who talk about the implications for Iran, the erosion of confidence in the international community for Iran. And so, really, the debate that the world is having, is not mirrored inside Iran, in terms of the scope of how far all of this can go.

MONTAGNE: Well, in a sense, it would seem to be working as far as the government's concerned. One interesting tension you've brought out in your reporting, is that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has framed the issue in this way--this question of pride--and it has begun to appeal to a younger middle-class Iranian--someone who might otherwise not support him.

Ms. MOAVENI: Absolutely. I would say, a year ago, there was no strong or collective opinion among young people on the nuclear issue. Today, it's a completely different atmosphere. Most young people, you know--secular, middle-class, traditional or otherwise--have been really convinced by the nationalist rhetoric of the president, that this is a national right and, sort of see this as the cornerstone for Iran being strong in the region, and in the world.

MONTAGNE: Many here in the United States see this as a critical period in the years-long confrontation with Iran. And there are, of course, reports of possible U.S. military action. Does the nuclear debate reach that level of urgency in Iran? Are people concerned about consequences?

Ms. MOAVENI: I would say that the urgency is not really being absorbed by most people. When I talk to people in the street, there's a sense that this is just more of the same war of rhetoric that started with the axis of evil remarks of President Bush, and there's not a sense that it's heightened to a degree that people need to be worried.

MONTAGNE: Just, finally, to turn to a different subject. You're the co-author of a memoir, published this week, by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. What did you learn about this human rights activist that surprised you or interested you?

Ms. MOAVENI: I think what I took away most from working with Mrs. Ebadi, was the amazing degree to which, in the last 25 years, you know, she herself, and the women's movement in general, have really been the only, I think, movement in Iran, that has gained a lot of grassroots support, that has started to change the lives of women in the provinces.

And it's really not about, you know, one charismatic leader; not about a, sort of, series of demonstrations that capture the world's attention; but this slow, sort of, process, by which women--through NGO's, and their small civil society groups--are collectively, sort of, coming together and in communities, and in villages, making really important gains.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Ms. MOAVENI: Thank you Renee.

MONTAGNE: Azadeh Moaveni writes for Time Magazine and she's the co-author of a memoir, published this week, by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, called, Iran Awakening. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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