STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk about the economic sanctions against Iran, which drove Iran to the negotiating table. The deal now lifts some sanctions over the next six months - for example, a ban on commercial airplane parts related to safety. World powers will hold off on choking Iran's oil exports even more than they already have.

Some Americans now worry how the United States will be able to keep up the sanction's pressure in order to win more concessions. At the same time, Iranians are slowly realizing that most sanctions remain in place. As NPR's Uri Berliner reports, Iran's economy is in terrible shape.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: When Barbara Slavin visited Teheran in August, she was struck by the rapid deterioration of the economy. An Iran analyst with the Atlantic Council, it was her ninth trip to the country.

BARBARA SLAVIN: The cost of living has gone up so fast for Iranians that they are absolutely stunned, and people are simply not able to maintain the middle-class lifestyles that they used to.

BERLINER: Iran's official inflation rate is about 40 percent. By comparison, inflation in the U.S. is less than 2 percent, and many outsiders believe prices are rising even faster in Iran than the government says, especially for food.

SLAVIN: You see that people are not buying meat as much as they used to because it's expensive, so they're subsisting more on rice and vegetables. Even vegetables and fruits are expensive, in some parts of town.

BERLINER: Iran has struggled with inflation on and off for decades, but the massive plunge in the value of Iran's currency - the rial - over the past two years has made inflation more pernicious. Because the rial is so weak, Iranians have to pay a lot more for imported goods. And Iran's main export, oil - the heart of its economy - is being sidelined by sanctions. Last year, the European Union joined the U.S. in an embargo on Iranian oil.

DANIELLE PLETKA: That really had a devastating effect.

BERLINER: Danielle Pletka tracks the Middle East for the American Enterprise Institute. She says when it was just the U.S. refusing to buy, the Iranians could easily sell its oil elsewhere in the global market.

PLETKA: When the Europeans came on board and decided not to buy, I think that really had a huge impact and, of course, it cut - by more than half - Iran's ability to sell.

BERLINER: Those E.U. sanctions last year didn't just ban Iranian oil sales. They blocked Iran from the global clearing system used by banks to process financial transactions, and Danielle Pletka says that added to the pain.

PLETKA: Iran is a part of the global trading environment, and they live economically through the sale of natural resources. So when you go after their banks systematically, you destroy their ability to get money.

BERLINER: Piled on top of all this were missteps by Iranian leaders, especially former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Barbara Slavin says he missed big changes in energy production that have been underway in recent years.

SLAVIN: He didn't realize that the United States would have access to shale oil, all these unconventional sources; that Iraq would be producing more, other countries would be producing more; and that the world would not actually need Iranian oil as much as it used to.

BERLINER: Rampant inflation, a currency in freefall, oil exports slashed, and a brutal squeeze on the middle class - all of this in just the past two years.

ALIREZA NADER: So when you combine all of that, it almost equals a perfect economic storm for Iran.

BERLINER: Alireza Nader is an Iran analyst with the Rand Corp. He says the economy was the deciding factor in the election last year of a more pragmatic, less confrontational Iranian president.

NADER: Hassan Rouhani was elected with a mandate to improve the economy. He has promised that he will improve the economy, and decrease Iran's international isolation; and to do so, he must reach a negotiated settlement on the nuclear program so sanctions can be lifted.

BERLINER: Over the weekend, negotiators from Iran and six world powers struck a deal: a six-month, interim agreement that gives Iran access to some of its oil revenues locked up overseas; but it keeps sanctions on Iran's oil exports in place. A permanent and comprehensive settlement on Iran's nuclear program may - or may not- be in sight, but Iran watchers agree on this: Negotiations would never have begun without effective sanctions.

Uri Berliner, NPR News.

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