POLL: Vast Majority Of Americans Support Diplomacy With Iran

CREDIT: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

A new poll released on Monday shows that three-quarters of Americans support increased diplomacy with Iran, a crucial public backing as the U.S. begins upping its engagement with the Islamic Republic.

According to the CNN/ORC International survey, which was conducted from September 27-29, 76 percent of those who responded said they favor direct diplomatic negotiations as part of a strategy to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Only twenty percent disagreed with that notion and said they opposed talking to the leaders in Tehran. Even more promising for political advisers in the Obama administration, there issue isn’t split along partisan lines, with a majority of Republicans also in favor of talks.

“Large majorities in all major demographic categories favor negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program, including 87% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “This is nothing new for the U.S. public — in 2009, virtually the same number of Americans said they favored negotiations with Iran.”

The United States believes that the Iranian government has not yet made the decision to develop a nuclear weapon, but remains concerned along with other members of the international community that Tehran’s nuclear program possesses military elements. Iran insists that its program is purely peaceful and that nuclear enrichment is its right under international law.

The new poll comes out the day that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to visit the White House for meetings with President Barack Obama. Netanyahu is a known skeptic of the shift in tone seen from Iran since more moderate Hassan Rouhani took over from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president last month. “I will tell the truth in the face of the sweet talk and the onslaught of smiles,” Netanyahu said before he left Israel on Sunday. “Telling the truth today is vital for the security and peace of the world and, of course, it is vital for the security of the state of Israel.”

Senators who take the lead on Iran issues are also expressing their doubts about engaging with Iran, threatening even more sanctions even as the White House seems poised to pivot towards talks that would relieve the embargoes already in place.

“In the coming days, we will be outspoken in our support for furthering sanctions against Iran, requiring countries to again reduce their purchases of Iranian petroleum and imposing further prohibitions on strategic sectors of the Iranian economy,” wrote Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in a Washington Post op-ed. In his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez has been an outspoken advocate for increasing the pressure on Tehran for its nuclear program.

“We proceed with an open hand, but there can be a deal only when Iran’s actions align with its rhetoric,” the two write.

Nonetheless, President Obama appears to be moving forward apace with diplomacy. On Friday, Obama announced that he had spoken on the phone with Rouhani, the first time leaders of the two countries had done so since 1978 when President Jimmy Carter spoke to the Shah of Iran last. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with his Iranian counterpart last week, told 60 Minutes on Sunday that he sees the chances of a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue coming as soon as three- to six-months from now.

“It’s possible to have a deal sooner than that depending on how forthcoming and clear Iran is prepared to be,” Kerry said. “If it is a peaceful program, and we can all see that – the whole world sees that – the relationship with Iran can change dramatically for the better and it can change fast.”

That prediction echoes one from Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, issued after meeting with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The first real test for that window will come in October, when Iran meets with members of the P5+1 — Germany, France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States — in Geneva for talks.