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Economic Sanctions Play Out In Strange Ways In Iran

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Economic Sanctions Play Out In Strange Ways In Iran

Economic Sanctions Play Out In Strange Ways In Iran

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

Talks will resume Monday on Iran's nuclear program. Back in November, Iran temporarily halted its program in return for some relief on sanctions. The U.S. says that its crippling sanctions have forced Iran's hand but sanctions have strange effects in Iran, as NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: It's hard to see crippling sanctions here at this modern shopping mall in northern Tehran. The shops are stocked, the cafes are full, the latest Western electronics, even iPhones and iPads are available for those who can afford it. But talk to middle-class Iranians and you hear a dire story. They say they suffered as prices on almost everything rose dramatically for the past two years.

International sanctions fueled skyrocketing inflation estimated at 45 percent. Practically, that means that everything - bread, rice, chicken - got more expensive every month. In a small neighborhood shop, a baker fills a machine with dough that pops out loaves of hot bread. Sanctions changed the way Iranians shop, says this customer who doesn't give her name. Whatever the price, she says, you still have to buy the basics.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through Translator) Some of the things are expensive, but it's already needed and necessary, so.

AMOS: So you just tighten your belt someplace else?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through Translator) The unnecessary things we ignore.

AMOS: Iran's economy has been badly damaged over the past two years. International sanctions froze oil assets and isolated Iranian banks, which shut off most international trade. Iran's currency lost 80 percent of its value, says economist Saeed Laylez.

SAEED LAYLEZ: We are in a catastrophic disaster situation at the moment. It was going to collapse, a real collapse.

AMOS: Since January, when the six-month nuclear deal took effect with the easing of some sanctions, there's a slight economic revival here, he says.

LAYLEZ: Inflation from 45 percent to 27 percent.

AMOS: And that's something that people notice in their everyday lives - the price of milk, the price of bread.

LAYLEZ: Of course. We had big achievement.

AMOS: The new president, Hassan Rouhani, is credited with that achievement, elected to fix the economy last year. Iranian leaders deny this, but Alex Vatanka, an Iran analyst in Washington, says economic pain convinced Iran to get serious about nuclear talks.

ALEX VATANKA: Iran needs to, for its own survival, to trade, export its oil, to import material, all the rest of it. So I think what Rouhani represents in many ways is engagement, and the supreme leader is also largely on board.

AMOS: Here at the Tehran Peace Museum, a facility dedicated to eradicating weapons of mass destruction, Dr. Shahriar Khateri believes sanctions punished Iran in ways other than emptying their wallets. Iran has more than 70,000 survivors of gas attacks in the 1980s, when Iraq's Saddam Hussein used mustard gas against Iranian troops.

And here is wax figure of Saddam Hussein on the gallows.

DR. SHAHRIAR KHATERI: Yes, because he was actually the perpetrators of the so many war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons.

AMOS: But it's not just history here. As a 15-year-old volunteer, Dr. Khateri was also exposed during the war. Now, he's an expert on the long-term effects of poison gas. He says critical medicines for patients who need corneal transplants and relief from lung damage have been scarce for two years. He blames sanctions.

KHATERI: Some of the vital inhalers medicine wasn't available at all, so we has serious problem and unfortunately several of them died over the past couple of months.

AMOS: But U.S. officials say sanctions specifically allow imports of food and medicines. Iranian officials counter that many companies stopped doing any business with Iran even when it was legal, scared off by U.S. warnings against breaking the sanctions. But now Dr. Khateri says many specific drugs are back on the market.

KHATERI: It's easier to find some of them, not all of them, but still the problem is not solved.

AMOS: So you started seeing a change almost immediately.

KHATERI: Almost immediately after the Geneva deal, yes. And it was good.

AMOS: Good for a population that has suffered, not only for these two years, but since the 1980s. Deborah Amos, NPR News.

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