Iran's disputed nuclear program is at the center of a brewing international crisis that some say has been aggravated by the words and actions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some analysts say the Iranian leader is hoping to use the current standoff with the West over the nuclear issue to rally nationalist support behind his government.
It was the long and bloody war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s that seems to have profoundly influenced Mr. Ahmadinejad, the former revolutionary guard who last year became Iran's president. In his presidential campaign, Mr. Ahmadinejad cited the sacrifices of those killed in the conflict and played to the nostalgia felt by some for the religious fervor that prevailed during the war and in the early years of the country's Islamic revolution.
Since becoming president, Mr. Ahmadinejad has emphasized nationalism to rally support for his government, according to Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Ahmadinejad has been very clever as a politician in realizing that the way to rekindle fervor among ordinary Iranians is by appealing to their proud nationalist sentiments -- that you can't really rely on Islam or for that matter the Islamic revolution to get ordinary Iranians excited. But nationalism, that works well."
In recent weeks, he has led rallies to protest the negative Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. He also has frequently called for Israel's destruction while reaching out to Hamas as it tries to form a new Palestinian government.
But it is Iran's disputed nuclear program that appears to have given him the most nationalistic traction. Iran says its program is for civilian purposes and claims the right to have full control over the uranium enrichment process. However, the United States and other Western nations worry that Tehran wants to use the enrichment process to make nuclear weapons.
The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report this week saying it could not determine if Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons because the country is still not fully cooperating with its probe.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli says the agency's report shows why the United States and other countries are concerned. "Contrary to commitments made to the Europeans and others, and contrary to its treaty obligations, Iran is engaged in enrichment activity on its territory and that is of serious concern to all of us and frankly, that is why Iran finds itself in the mess that it is in."
But in the streets of Tehran there was some support for Mr. Ahmadinejad's stance. Following the news in early February that the International Atomic Energy Agency decided to report Iran to the UN Security Council for possible action, some Iranians reacted defiantly.
One student reacted by saying, "Iran, I think, is independent and during this 20 years after the Revolution it's proven that we can be self-sufficient from other countries so there's nothing wrong with it."
Analyst Clawson says the Iranian leader's tactic may pay off. "If Iran can continue with its nuclear program, largely unrestricted, and Iran does not face serious repercussions from the outside world, then Ahmadinejad's confrontational policies will have been seen to be successful."
Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, of the non-governmental International Crisis Group, is among some calling for a new strategy. He says Washington should offer security guarantees and other incentives to Iran in return for strict and intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities and other concessions. He warns if all else fails, there could be war.
"The remaining alternative is military action, preventive military action of the kind that generated the Iraq war in 2003. And here we argue that this is just really completely unthinkable."
Meanwhile, an Iranian delegation arrived for talks in Moscow this week as Russia made a last attempt to wring concessions from Iran on the uranium enrichment issue.
The next step could come soon when the UN Security Council meets to discuss Iran's case.