Iranians greet nuclear deal with guarded optimism

The Iranians and Americans already appear to be disputing what terms they have actually agreed to, says one expert

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The Independent Online

“Do you know what’s happening today?” the old man asked over breakfast in the restaurant of the Piroozy hotel in Iran’s ‘cultural capital’ Esfahan.

Iranians, like Hafez, love talking about politics. “Today, the talks about our nuclear power stations start again,” he said, spreading carrot jam over his flat bread. “I really hope we can make a deal, I’m tired of my country being closed off from the world. Our politicians need to find some agreement.”

It was October; the Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the EU’s then foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton were preparing to meet in Vienna to begin another round of talks on the road to Thursday’s breakthrough ‘framework agreement’ in Lausanne.  Uranium, centrifuges and heavy water reactors had entered the lexicon of everday life in Iran like never before.

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Although there were celebrations, sanctions haven’t been lifted (AFP/Getty)

Even as diplomatic relations were in their best state in years, Hafez could barely dare to dream that such a deal could be struck. Like millions across Iran, he and his family had suffered from the effects of increasingly strict trade sanctions imposed on the country.

The middle classes of Tehran, Shiraz and Qom were experiencing a real ‘cost of living crisis’ with inflation touching 45 per cent and the value of their currency plummeting on world markets. International credit cards had stopped working and foreign tourism dried up. Soon that may change, under the “good deal” Barack Obama again praised yesterday.

Mr Zarif was given a hero’s welcome when he returned home on Friday, greeted on the streets by the same Iranians who had spent the night before chanting, waving flags and taking selfies in front of President Obama’s televised face after hearing news of the prospective deal.

In Shiraz, the fabled southern ‘city of poets’, property values collapsed when the most serious sanctions were imposed in 2010. Like many others from the city, Ebrahim celebrated the deal’s announcement through social media, where people shared stories from BBC Persia and Voice of America, trusting them ahead of state media.

 

“A great majority of people here are so optimistic about the deal,” he told the IoS. “But there are some extremist sectors and their tiny fans - that are named the Anxious group – who are not happy. Also there are people and parties that were benefiting from the sanctions because they had made a monopoly for their economic activities on the black market.”

Those opponents, and hardliners, may yet have their way.

Professor Ali Ansari, Director of the Institute of Iranian Studies at St Andrews University, urged caution before the full and final deal is signed. “There’s an assumption that on 30 June all sanctions will be lifted,” he said. “But it would be phased and gradual.”

He added that the Iranians and the Americans already appear to be disputing what terms they have actually agreed to. While it’s hard to imagine the genie could be put back in the bottle after the cathartic celebrations in Iran, the 2009 crackdown on the liberal Green Movement indicates the Islamic regime’s hardliners would not let themselves be dictated to by the people if talks on a final deal yet break down. “Who are the people celebrating now? They’re the young blokes who the authorities were shooting six years ago,” Prof Ansari added.

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