Middle East

Iranians Hope For Normalcy After Nuclear Agreement

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Iranians are used to bad news, so word of an international deal to halt the nation's nuclear program and the lifting of some sanctions was something extraordinary. Host Rachel Martin speaks with New York Times Tehran Bureau Chief Thomas Erdbrink.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

This morning, we're hearing details about a new agreement reached with Iran about its nuclear program. To get a sense of reaction so far in Iran, we're joined now by The New York Times Tehran bureau chief Thomas Erdbrink.

Thanks so much for being with us.

THOMAS ERDBRINK: Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MARTIN: So what are you hearing? What kind of response have you heard from Iranians you've talked with?

ERDBRINK: Well, it was very interesting. This morning, I just came out of the press conference with President Rouhani, who had invited a group of selected journalists to get out a statement, saying how pleased he was with the deal. And when I walked into the building where I live and where are also have my office, a lot of people came up to me - knowing that I'm the foreigner and also knowing that I'm a reporter - asking me the details of the agreement made, wondering if this would mean an end to sanctions, and most of all, being extremely hopeful that this all means a better time for normal, ordinary Iranians.

MARTIN: As you mentioned, you were at that press conference this morning where President Rouhani announced the deal. That must've been quite a scene. Can you describe it?

ERDBRINK: Well, as I said, only selected journalists got a phone call very early this morning that they had to report at the presidential office, and I had to rush through Tehran traffic to get here. You know, there was a lot of anticipation on the faces of mainly the Iranian reporters who have been, you know, living in Iran throughout this whole ordeal, as it is for them, who have been affected by the sanctions, who feel isolated, just like other normal, ordinary Iranians.

So they were happy to see their president, many of whom also voted for in June, to make the statement and to actually say that Iran had gained a lot from these talks and that the agreement was a very big success for the country.

MARTIN: How trusting, Thomas, or weary are Iranians of the U.S. commitment to this deal?

ERDBRINK: Ordinary citizens - again, I must stress - they feel ready to accept any sort of agreement that would just lead to a deal because people are sick and tired of the sanctions. Now, if you ask people in the government, people who actually call the shots in this country who are part of the leadership, then they are doubtful - hopeful, but doubtful.

And then it also depends, if you ask hard-liners or more moderate members of the leadership, and they have reason to be, they say, because a similar deal was struck with European countries in 2003. After which, Iran suspended its entire nuclear program for two years. That agreement failed and then there were eight years of President Ahmadinejad and lots of tensions between Iran and the West.

People in the leadership have a feeling that this is worth a shot. They are doubtful, but they are giving it a try.

MARTIN: Have you seen any kind of backlash over these talks and this preliminary deal?

ERDBRINK: Well, there is a backlash to be expected, just as in America we can expect a backlash of people who are opposing the deal. And there are many hard-liners here who work skeptical that a deal can actually happen. Now, these people have the power to mobilize enormous number of forces. They control basically every power center beyond the presidency. So if they say that, for instance, important issues like the right to enrichment have not been encapsulated enough in that agreement, they could put the government under pressure.

But for now, one very important development: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has actually sent out messages through his SMS text system saying that he supports the deal. And that is very important because that would make hard-liners take a backseat for all this for now.

MARTIN: New York Times Tehran bureau chief Thomas Erdbrink. Thank you so much for talking us.

ERDBRINK: Thanks for having me.

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