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Published on July 17th, 2015 | by Jim Lobe

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Iran’s Sunni Neighbors Seem Unconcerned About Nuclear Program

by Jim Lobe

For all the talk about Iranian imperialism and the Sunni-Shia divide throughout the Middle East, the predominantly Sunni Muslim publics of at least some of Iran’s neighbors don’t seem too concerned about Tehran’s nuclear program.

That is the inescapable conclusion of the most recently released component of the Pew Research Center’s giant Global Attitudes Project poll, which asked their 45,000-plus respondents in 40 different countries to choose which, among seven regional and global challenges, they were “very concerned” about. The challenges included global climate change, global economic stability, the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), Iran’s nuclear program, cyber attacks, tensions with Russia, and territorial disputes with China. The survey was carried out this spring.

Of all 40 countries covered by the survey, Israel was the only one where more respondents (53%) said they were “very concerned” about Iran’s nuclear program than any other issue, although nearly as many (44%) of the Israeli respondents named IS. But Iran didn’t rank nearly as high in the predominantly Sunni Muslim countries in Iran’s neighborhood—Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories. (Granted, the poll didn’t cover any of the Gulf states, notably Saudi Arabia and the UAE where anti-Iranian and anti-Shia sentiment is reportedly most pervasive.)

In Turkey—which, according to the Israel lobby and other foes of the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, will be forced into an arms or nuclear race with Tehran as a result of the agreement—a mere 22% of respondents said they were “very concerned” about Iran’s nuclear program. Respondents there cited climate change (35%), economic instability and IS (33% each) as greater concerns. In Jordan, whose King Abdullah was the first to warn about a menacing Iran-led “Shia crescent” back in 2004, the results were even more striking. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%) said they were “very concerned” about IS. Another 39% cited economic instability (39%) and climate change (36%) as the most worrisome issues. Iran’s nuclear program ranked fourth at 29%.

Significantly, IS also topped the list of concerns in Lebanon (84%) and Palestine (54%) where more respondents also cited both climate change and the global economy than Iran’s nuclear program. As for Pakistan, a nuclear power that, after all, shares a long border with Iran, only nine percent of respondents chose Tehran’s nuclear program as something they were “very concerned” about, the lowest percentage for any country except China (8%). Climate change (25%), territorial disputes with China (18%), IS, and cyber attacks (14% each) all evoked more concern there.

As for European countries—the ones that the Bush administration wanted to protect from Iran’s purported nuclear ambitions by building anti-missile systems along their peripheries—very strong majorities, ranging from 66% (UK) to 77% (Spain), chose IS as one issue they were “very concerned” about. Although British respondents cited Iran’s nuclear program as their second biggest worry (41%), the Germans rated it third (39%), the Italians (44%) and Spanish (52%) fourth, and the French (43%) fifth. In most of the last four cases, climate change and the economy came in ahead of Iran.

In the U.S., Iran (62%) came in second place behind IS (68%). This gap may widen over the next few days due both to the successful conclusion of the P5+1 negotiations—although the tidal wave of anti-deal propaganda has hardly begun to build, let alone crest—and IS’s efforts to take credit for Thursday’s murders of four Marines in Chattanooga.

As you will note from the table below (copied and pasted from the Pew report), a higher percentage of U.S. respondents said they were “very concerned” about Iran than those in all other countries, including Israel. The same goes for cyber attacks (59%).

As you might expect, the most common concern among Polish and Ukrainian respondents was tensions with Russia. Similarly, territorial disputes with China figured high among most other Asian nations, although only in Vietnam did the most people (60%) say they were “very concerned.” Fifty-two percent and 56% percent in Japan and the Philippines, respectively, cited territorial disputes with China as issues about which they were “very concerned.” But in neither case was China the most prevalent concern. Nearly three out of four (72%) Filipino respondents cited climate change, and the same percentage of Japanese respondents cited IS (no doubt due in major part to the video-taped beheadings of two Japanese citizens in late January).

Overall, publics in 19 of 40 nations cited climate change as their biggest worry, including respondents in seven of nine sub-Saharan African countries and all six of the Latin American countries surveyed by Pew. Climate change was also the most commonly voiced concern in India and China, in addition to Turkey, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

Here’s Pew’s table:

Country Global climate change Global economic instability ISIS Iran’s nuclear program Cyber-attacks Tensions with Russia Territorial disputes with China
U.S. 42% 51% 68% 62% 59% 43% 30%
Canada 45% 32% 58% 43% 39% 35% 19%
France 48% 49% 71% 43% 47% 41% 16%
Germany 34% 26% 70% 39% 39% 40% 17%
Italy 45% 48% 69% 44% 25% 27% 17%
Poland 14% 26% 29% 26% 22% 44% 11%
Spain 59% 63% 77% 52% 35% 39% 20%
U.K. 38% 32% 66% 41% 34% 41% 16%
Russia 22% 43% 18% 15% 14% * 8%
Ukraine 20% 35% 9% 11% 4% 62% 4%
Turkey 35% 33% 33% 22% 22% 19% 14%
Jordan 36% 39% 62% 29% 26% 18% 16%
Lebanon 44% 39% 84% 30% 17% 18% 16%
Palest. ter. 33% 32% 54% 17% 24% 12% 10%
Israel 14% 28% 44% 53% 18% 6% 3%
Australia 37% 32% 69% 38% 37% 31% 17%
China 19% 16% 9% 8% 12% 9% *
India 73% 49% 41% 28% 45% 30% 38%
Indonesia 42% 41% 65% 29% 22% 15% 11%
Japan 42% 30% 72% 39% 39% 32% 52%
Malaysia 37% 37% 21% 11% 20% 9% 12%
Pakistan 25% 6% 14% 9% 14% 7% 18%
Philippines 72% 52% 49% 47% 49% 38% 56%
South Korea 40% 31% 75% 41% 55% 24% 31%
Vietnam 58% 37% 30% 22% 32% 19% 60%
Argentina 57% 49% 34% 31% 28% 22% 18%
Brazil 75% 60% 46% 49% 47% 33% 28%
Chile 62% 39% 31% 31% 22% 15% 15%
Mexico 54% 46% 23% 28% 30% 16% 14%
Peru 75% 58% 35% 42% 35% 26% 27%
Venezuela 60% 60% 28% 35% 38% 22% 24%
Burkina Faso 79% 50% 41% 28% 25% 17% 15%
Ethiopia 59% 50% 38% 23% 28% 20% 20%
Ghana 71% 67% 46% 34% 42% 30% 29%
Kenya 58% 44% 35% 29% 35% 19% 20%
Nigeria 65% 48% 36% 24% 29% 25% 24%
Senegal 51% 59% 35% 33% 37% 20% 16%
South Africa 47% 33% 26% 25% 28% 18% 22%
Tanzania 49% 56% 51% 37% 46% 30% 26%
Uganda 74% 62% 39% 33% 30% 24% 23%

Photo courtesy of menj via Flickr

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About the Author

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Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



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