Although many Iranians still fervently believe in their country's
right to all aspects of a civilian nuclear program, including those
regarded with suspicion in the West, they are increasingly tired of
the high economic price.
That weariness will form the backdrop on June 16 when Iran's
political leaders send negotiators to Geneva for talks with six
world powers aimed at hammering out an agreement that swaps
concessions on uranium enrichment for sanctions relief.
"I love my country but I love my family more, and for years I have
worked hard to cope with the rising prices," said Ali Mirzai, a
father of three in the northern city of Rasht.
"I am tired. My only hope now is (President Hassan) Rouhani. He is
trying to improve the economy by resolving the nuclear issue. I
believe in him and his policies."
Mirzai, like millions of Iranians who bore the brunt of the
sanctions, voted last year for pragmatist Rouhani after he promised
to improve the flagging economy in part by striking a deal with the
Although there are no reliable opinion polls in Iran, Rouhani's
large margin of victory on a platform of compromise, and anecdotal
evidence gleaned from recent telephone interviews across the country
suggest strong public appetite for a deal.
"Rouhani and his team will solve this issue. I am sure his moderate
and compromising policy will work. We don't need hostility," said
Arvin Sadri, 31, who runs his father's furniture factory in the
northern holy city of Mashhad.
After several rounds of talks last year, a preliminary deal was
penned in Geneva in November, including a limited easing of
sanctions in exchange for Iran halting some nuclear activities.
The agreement took effect on Jan. 20, and was designed to buy time
for a final deal within six months. As the deadline fast approaches,
the lifting of some sanctions has given Iranians a taste of how
things might improve.
Maryam Simai, 41, a schoolteacher in the central city of Yazd said
she supports the atomic program and believes sanctions are unfair.
But she still favors compromise.
"I want to live in peace. I don't want to fear for the future of my
children. The tension with the international community and sanctions
have ruined our economy and has isolated us," she said.
If a lifting of sanctions is important to many Iranians, it is vital
for the political hopes of Rouhani, a self-proclaimed moderate who
has pledged to boost the economy.
"A deal with the world powers will bring political and economic
stability to Iran. Rouhani's political future depends on this deal.
He will become a lame duck president if he fails to reach a deal,"
said political analyst Hasan Feghhi.
Analysts and economists say he has only partially succeeded in
repairing economic damage that Iran suffered during years of
confrontation with the West, particularly under his hardline
predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The official inflation rate has halved to around 20 percent since
Rouhani's election, but unemployment remains around 30 percent and
the gap between rich and poor is widening. Meanwhile, Iran's rial
has dropped against the U.S. dollar.
"I support my country's nuclear achievements but at the same time I
donít think it is logical to pay a heavy price for it," said Jinus
Dadgostar, 18, who lives in the affluent neighborhood of Zaferaniyeh
in northern Tehran.
Years of official rhetoric denying that sanctions were hurting and
glorifying the country's supposed self-reliance resonated with some
Iranians, who said they were happy to suffer to defend a program
that came to symbolize national pride.
However, Iran's traditionally cautious clerical rulers, loath to
incite any Arab Spring-style domestic unrest or provoke harsher
international action, have adopted more emollient language in recent
months, diplomats said."Iran's clerical rulers need this deal to
guarantee their power. That is why they have changed their tone,"
said a Tehran-based western diplomat, speaking on condition of
[to top of second column]
But because a failure of talks would rebound even harder on
pragmatist Rouhani and his allies, they can still afford to take a
harder position than the president, the diplomat added.
"No deal or a bad deal will strengthen hardliners in Iran."
Rouhani's position is made more complicated because although his
status as president gives him a big say, it is lower in Iran's
political hierarchy than that of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei, who has the last word on the nuclear file.
Backing away from atomic defiance could be politically tricky for
Khamanei, who has supported hardline positions on the nuclear file
in the past.
But, for now, he appears to fear the economic problems caused by
sanctions could weaken his position and he has cautiously backed the
talks, calling for "heroic flexibility" but still expressing
pessimism about the outcome.
"The members of the team work under direct guidance of the leader
(Khamenei). Everything is being reported to him and he sets the tone
for the Iranian negotiators," said a senior Iranian official, who
asked to be unnamed.
One sign of Khamanei's current support for some form of compromise
can be deciphered in the hardline media, which has started
publishing articles that justify a more conciliatory approach, often
citing economic hardship.
Oil exports account for around 60 percent of Iran's economy, much of
its food and animal feed come from abroad, and many of its factories
assemble goods from imported parts.
"I am tired of this nuclear dispute. For years we feared further
economic pressure and possible military action. A nuclear deal is
our only chance to live in peace," said interior designer Mastaneh
Alavi in the northwestern city of Tabriz.
But many Iranians contacted by Reuters still argued for a "balanced"
nuclear deal, saying it would be unfair to deny their country a
technology possessed by Pakistan, India and Israel.
"As our leader said, we will not accept closure of our nuclear
facilities," said Asghar Seydani, 38, who is a member of the
hardline Basij militia in the western city of Kermanshah.
"No sir, I will not accept it. If necessary, I am ready to sacrifice
my blood for continuation of our nuclear activities."
From businessmen in Tehran to housewives in Shiraz, many Iranians
dread possible consequences of failure of the talks including
further sanctions and even military attack.
The United States and Iranís arch foe Israel have not ruled out
military action if diplomacy fails to resolve Iranís nuclear
dispute. However, analysts say such an attack could well consolidate
the clerical establishmentís power.
Khamenei, for his part, said on Wednesday he did not consider a
military strike was an option for the United states.
"America has now understood that a military attack is not a
priority. They know that such attacks are even more dangerous for
the attacker than for the country attacked.Ē
(Editing by Angus McDowall and Ralph Boulton)
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