MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
We have more now on those nuclear talks with Iran that Tamara mentioned. Iran has begun diluting its most dangerous nuclear fuel. That news this morning from the International Atomic Energy Agency. If ongoing talks can lead to a permanent nuclear deal, it could be the start of a new phase of warmer relations between Iran and the West.
NPR's Deborah Amos is in Iran for the first time since 1991. Back then, Iran was still devastated by a long war with Iraq. And it had been just over a decade since Iran replaced the dictatorship of the shah with a revolutionary, Islamist government.
Deborah joins us from Tehran with her impressions of how the country has changed in the last two decades. And, Deb, what stands out as the biggest differences you're seeing?
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: I'm going to start with the physical differences. There's a new airport. There's a new metro system. There are new overpasses on highways. But the city is clogged with high-rise apartments. It's a sign of wealth here. It's also a sign of power shifts. Each new mayor of Tehran allows unfettered construction and, as far as I can tell, no zoning restrictions. It's a way to collect money for the things that the city needs, as people are allowed to build, regime insiders are allowed to build.
So what happens is you have city traffic that is in grid lock. And, at the same time, you have terrible pollution here. That's mostly from the sanctions. Iran bought its refined gasoline from outside. The sanctions stopped that. They had to reduce their own and they didn't do it very well. So it's dirty gas.
Here's one other thing that I see on these crowded highways and that's luxury cars. Iran has more Porsches than any other country in the Middle East. And what that signals are people who are sanction busters. If you needed to get pharmaceuticals in the country, you needed somebody who could do that because Iran didn't have a banking system, international one, because of the sanctions.
BLOCK: What about the evolution in Iran of the famous religious restrictions on behavior. Are you seeing signs of change there, too?
AMOS: Here's what I noticed. There is a satellite dish on just about every house. Now, these are illegal. But about 80 percent of the country is watching, even down to the village level. So what you have is global culture booming into this country. And you see young people walking on the street with their headsets and smartphones. Two decades ago, you mostly saw women in chadors, that's the black enveloping cloak that women were wearing. Makeup was prohibited. Fingernail polish was just out. You couldn't do it. The regime now has lost the war on skinny pants and leggings.
AMOS: You see makeup on women. You see tall boots. It doesn't mean that people here are less religious or they want to Western culture, but its global fashion. And Iranians want a part of it and not just in north Tehran, which is the rich part of town, but also in the south.
BLOCK: Now, Deb, the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has promised to ease social restrictions and, in particular, the work of the notorious Morality Police. Have they, in fact, backed off since his election last year?
AMOS: Melissa, when he was elected, he spoke about easing these social restrictions. And he even banned the Morality Police from detaining women for what hardliners call improper dress. What Rouhani said was these moral squads antagonize society. But they haven't completely disappeared. We were driving around doing interviews and my translator's daughter was detained for being in the company of a male who wasn't her husband.
Then I was detained for recording the confrontation between my translator-turned-distraught father and the police. So we were all held for about three hours. What was interesting is I watched these young women on the women's side of the police station berating the women morality cops. How dare you tell us what to do under Islam? You have no right to hold us. You know, once Rouhani opened the door to say they couldn't do this anymore, then it gave license young women to berate the Morality Police.
We were all released about three hours later. And when I left the station, I got a hug from the chief police woman and some fruit juice. And it turned out I think I was the least confrontational - I didn't speak the language - of anybody, so they were happy when I left.
BLOCK: That's a fascinating snapshot of tensions and new tensions in that society.
AMOS: It is. It is such a curious place. One diplomat explained that many things are prohibited but accepted. You find that Facebook and Twitter. The president and the foreign minister both have accounts but it is illegal to have a Facebook account in this country. But everybody knows how to get around the filters. And so, Facebook is here but many sites are filtered by the government including NPR's site.
BLOCK: That's NPR's Deborah Amos who's reporting from Tehran. Deborah, thank you so much.
AMOS: Thank you.
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