BEIRUT: A slim majority of Iranians and Americans support direct engagement between their governments, a new poll published Monday found, as the countries mulled a landmark meeting between leaders Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. this week. The survey, commissioned by global campaign network Avaaz, found 51 percent of Iranians would back direct negotiations between their newly elected president and Obama.
Speculation abounds of a rapprochement between Tehran and Washington after officials said the two leaders may speak privately on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. A face-to-face meeting would be the first of its kind since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
The Iranian public’s support for dialogue is mirrored in the United States, according to the poll, which found 59 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat approve of Obama’s renewed diplomatic engagement with the Islamic Republic, which has included exchanging letters with Rouhani.
Rouhani has used markedly more conciliatory language to talk about the West than predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was known for his fiery speeches. Fifty-nine percent of Iranians appear to back the centrist’s approach, believing his election will help improve relations with the international community, the poll said.
The civil war in Syria, another topic likely to feature heavily in New York, has also strained an already frayed relationship. Iran has staunchly backed the regime of President Bashar Assad – which is accused of using chemical arms on its citizens – and the U.S. has thrown its weight behind the rebels working to oust him.
While a significant number of both U.S. and Iranian citizens polled thought the international community had a responsibility to protect Syrians from chemical weapons attacks – 59 and 46 percent respectively – the two nations differed on how to tackle the conflict.
Of the U.S. citizens polled, 47 percent said if Obama worked with Rouhani to produce a negotiated solution to the conflict that would greatly or somewhat improve their view of his presidential legacy.
Iranians were more split. When asked if they would support Assad leaving office to help end the conflict, 34 percent said they would back such a move, 24 percent said they would not.
The Avaaz-commissioned survey was conducted by Riwi in Iran and polled 12,757 Iranians. The U.S. survey via Zobgy polled 1,000 people.