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Nuclear Iran, from the outside, differs from the inside

by Leor Galil
Feb 11, 2010

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The Center for Middle Eastern Studies

The University of Chicago created the Center for Middle Eastern Studies in 1965. The CMES is an interdepartmental, interdisciplinary unit at the school, collaborates with a variety of the university’s departments, including Near Eastern languages and Civilizations, political science and history.

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   One Chicago expert on Iran is worried. His concern isn’t about nuclear technology, but how the country is perceived. 

“I believe that it’s not exactly reported correctly,” said John E. Woods, a professor of Iranian and Central Asian History at the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

. Woods said the media emphasizes Iran’s potential to build nuclear weapons instead of focusing on the issues at hand. When he was in the country recently, the perspective is different.

  “They’ve never said that that’s what they’ve been doing [building nuclear weapons], but of course what people do is they add things together,” Woods said. “They [the Iranian people] really keep emphasizing the ability to conduct nuclear medical research.” 

Woods’ comments came after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that his country has bolstered its nuclear program. On Thursday, Ahmadinejad told Iranians at a rally for the 1979 Islamic Revolution anniversary that the country produced uranium enriched to 20 percent purity. The announcement marks the highest percentage of pure uranium enrichment the country has achieved. 

According to a U.S. State Department spokesman, the department has yet to discuss Iran’s nuclear capabilities in-depth since Ahmadinejad’s announcement.

Philip J. Crowley, assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs, addressed the issue of Iran’s nuclear capacity at a press briefing last week. 

“We are prepared as well to take steps to put pressure on Iran to help them recognize that they will pay a cost for their continued pursuit of their nuclear program and while ignoring the valid concerns of the international community,” Crowley said. 

Iran’s nuclear technology appears to be a thorny issue in Chicago as well. Though Woods is quick to offer a different perspective on Iran, one Chicago resident, John Sostarich, who is retired, said he thinks the U.S. should remain guarded after the recent announcement. 

“I’m not comfortable with it,” Sostarich said. “Given the last 30 years, the revolution, I just don’t trust them there. I’m not comfortable with them having the capability of a nuclear bomb.”