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Iran Looks to Increase Influence in Middle East, World Affairs

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to court world leaders and openly defy the United States, Margaret Warner looks at what the ascendant Islamic republic wants to achieve with its growing influence.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The symbols of Iran's rising power are everywhere in Tehran, from the capital city's rapid growth, fueled by surging oil prices, to the military exercises showcased nightly on Iranian TV, to the freeway posters celebrating Lebanon's Hezbollah leader and longtime Iranian client, Hassan Nasrallah.

    Iran enjoys vast oil and gas reserves, and an educated population of 70 million, far larger than any other country in the region. Those advantages have been boosted dramatically by recent external events — ironically, at the hands of the United States, notes University of Tehran political science professor Nasser Hadian.

  • NASSER HADIAN, Political Science Professor, Tehran University:

    Thanks to the Americans, I mean, our geopolitical situation is in a very good shape. Two of our enemies have already gone. Not only them already gone — there are friendly governments there.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    A reference to the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan, which toppled the hostile Taliban, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which deposed Iran's nemesis, Saddam Hussein, and led to the election of a government dominated by fellow Shiites.

    The latest boost to Iran's fortunes came from what's widely seen here as a major Hezbollah victory over Israel in Lebanon. Iran's decades of funding and arming the militant group paid off. In the mosques and streets of Tehran, Hezbollah's performance is a source of tremendous pride.

    You could hear the triumphant tone at a recent gathering for Friday prayers, where one of the leading clerics in government, Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, crowed about what he said was a victory for Iran and for Shiite power.

  • AYATOLLAH AHMAD JANATI, Secretary, Guardian Council (through translator):

    The credibility of Israel and America was shattered, although they never really had any. The Americans threw their support behind the Israelis. And, in the end, they were defeated by Hezbollah.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    You could hear the same pride in the departing crowd.

  • MAN (through translator):

    With all the military gear that America was supplying to Israel, the defeat that Israel suffered was in fact a defeat for the United States as well. It showed its weakness, too.

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