Hope and apprehension in Tehran as nuclear negotiations continue

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. So, no deal in Vienna, but we’re talking no deal in a positive way. The deadline for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program passed but got extended to next week. In the next couple of minutes, we’ll be looking at the deal and why some in the U.S. and beyond believe it’s not strong enough. But first, let’s hear how Iranians in Tehran are viewing the nuclear talks. Nahlah Ayed is with the CBC, I reached her in Tehran.

 

Nahlah Ayed: People are paying a great amount of attention. They really are following the minutiae, they know everything that is happening with the talks. And they’re doing it through newspapers, television, online, every way you can imagine. And they’re a little bit apprehensive talking to, of course, but there is excitement among some people we’ve spoken to, and just a sense of limbo, if you will, especially now that this deadline is passing. I think there have been many deadlines in this process and every one of them has sort of created a sense of excitement or anticipation here, and every time they have to wait for the next one it’s sort of caused a bit of anxiety, if you will. So, there’s a great deal of anticipation; people are sort of stuck right now in a holding pattern, trying to see what happens, and it feels as though the talks really determine the mood. I went to the stock exchange the other day, for example, and they said that because there was nothing clear, the numbers that day were so-so. I went to a money exchanger who said when people are hopeful about the talks, they buy more reals, if they’re feeling a bit strange about the talks, they buy dollars. So, it very much determines how people are feeling right now.

 

Werman: So, in one of your dispatches you write about some kids who are into the sport of parkour--urban acrobatics, for those who don’t know--kind of a risky sport. Do they have opinions on the nuclear negotiations?

 

Ayed: As you might expect, a couple of them said, “We have better things to worry about,” they didn’t want to talk about it. But others did really get into it. One young man in particular was talking to us about how he didn’t really like the kind of image that Iran has in the West. He blamed the media for that; he blamed people like us for that. But he also didn’t completely absolve Iranians from this. And so, he seemed to think that perhaps these talks, and if a deal were to come about, that that would be good for the image of Iran, which, to him, was very important. A young woman we spoke to was convinced that the removal of the sanctions would open up Iran to the world and that that was a good thing. She even imagined the day where she might go abroad to have other experiences, to study, perhaps. So, it is something everyone is talking about.

 

Werman: Yeah, and I suspect with the possibility of sanctions being lifted, business owners are especially interested in what’s going on in Vienna.

 

Ayed: Absolutely. And, you know, I think I mentioned we went to the stock market and those numbers are affected by how the talks are going. But we went to a high-tech company that’s been around for about a decade--incredibly smart, young people, all university educated, all under 30. And they’ve got this product and they’re very excited about it, but they say what they’re missing are two very important things: one, investment from abroad, and the other is access to cutting edge technology. They put a positive spin on it and said they’ve had to be really creative in the absence of that contact to the outside world to do what they need to do, but they certainly see a huge opportunity in the removal of sanctions.

 

Werman: And for Iranians who just want to see the sanctions lifted, how do they see, in their blue sky world, how their lives will improve once that happens? Do they see an overnight change? How’s that going to work for them?

 

Ayed: I think there’s a real pragmatism here about how quickly they will see change. I mean, that high-tech company we spoke to, a young man there, Ali, told us he does not have any expectations that this change will come overnight. What strikes me all along in talking to people here is just how patient they seem to be. They’ve waited a long time for change, they’re willing to wait a little bit longer. We actually spoke to an Iranian British journalist here who told us that the expectation is it might be even a year and that officials here have been warning people that if the sanctions are removed that to actually feel it in your everyday purchases, in those higher prices that people have lived with, in the currency that has dropped to the floor over the years--that might take several months, if not a year. So, that is the expectation here; it won’t be overnight.

 

Werman: Nahlah Ayed, foreign correspondent with the CBC. She’s on assignment for a few days in Tehran. Thank you very much for your time.

 

Ayed: It’s a pleasure.

 

Werman: So, we’re talking about the nuclear negotiations in Vienna. Actual details of the deal have been hard to come by, but an outline emerged three months ago in a framework of understanding. At its core, Iran will freeze parts of its nuclear program for 10 or 15 years and allow some international inspections in exchange for an easing of sanctions. But a lot of experts are now unhappy with the way negotiations are going. Last week, a bipartisan group of U.S. diplomats, lawmakers, and experts issued a joint statement under the auspices of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Dennis Ross is part of that group. Ambassador Ross has served as a diplomat and senior official on Middle East policy as far back as the administration of the first George Bush. I spoke with him earlier this afternoon. Ambassador Ross, given how late into the negotiations we are, how helpful is this statement from, frankly, some really heavy hitters on the issue a week before the deadline?

 

Dennis Ross: Well, look at the statements the supreme leader is making. He gives a speech in which he basically walks back from all the key principles in the framework understanding. So, if the supreme leader of Iran can make that kind of a statement and there should be no response from people over here? I think what we were doing, in no small part, was making it clear if the supreme leader is going to be posturing and putting pressure on his negotiators that way, we will be prepared to support the administration in terms of living up to the key principles built into the framework understanding. My concern was if you look at what the supreme leader was saying, the supreme leader was saying sanctions relief had to come immediately, timed with the agreement. He was saying there’d be no access to military sites or to Iranian scientists. He was raising explicit questions about there being no limitations on their research and development on new centrifuges. He was raising questions about even the reductions that were called for in the framework understanding and the length of time embodied in it. And I, for one, at least wanted to be sure that the essential principles embodied in the framework understanding were maintained and there wasn’t any erosion in those principles, because in many respects, those are kind of the minimum thresholds that are needed for an agreement to really address I think what this negotiation has been about from the outset.

 

Werman: So, you believe that there is renegotiation going on around the framework?

 

Ross: I definitely think that that’s what the Iranians were trying to do, absolutely.

 

Werman: So, what should the U.S. be doing about this?

 

Ross: Well, I think the U.S. should stand firm, #1. I think it shouldn’t feel driven to try to conclude the agreement even by July 9th, meaning I don’t think a deadline should be what drives us, I think the content of the agreement should drive us. And what we were putting out in that statement were the principles that need to be embodied in the agreement and, by the way, were completely consistent with what was in the framework understanding.

 

Werman: So, has the administration, has the White House given you any public or private acknowledgement that you and the people who signed on to this letter are being heard?

 

Ross: Yes, I have spoken to people in the administration, and what they have said explicitly to me was that they saw the principles in the statement being exactly what they were trying to negotiate, and I was told, “This is precisely what we’re trying to do and we welcome the statement.”

 

Werman: But today President Obama insisted that given Iran’s past behavior, there will need to be a serious verification mechanism, implying that that was a deal breaker if it wasn’t reached, and that he was ready to walk away. Do you think the president is sincere?

 

Ross: I take him at his word. I do think he’s sincere. I think--look, we can’t have an agreement with the Iranians where the essence of the agreement is a rollback of sanctions for transparency and then we don’t get the transparency. Again, originally when we went into the negotiations, I think the objective was rollback of the sanctions in return for rollback of their nuclear infrastructure. Now what we’re having is a rollback of some infrastructure for 10 years but then no limits on that infrastructure after that time. So, the essence of this deal is rollback for transparency. In the end, we better get transparency that’s real.

 

Werman: So, what do you think is the likelihood of a deal being struck next week? I’ve seen as discouraging figures as 50/50.

 

Ross: I don’t know if we’re going to see a deal next week. I do think we’re going to see a deal. I don’t think--notwithstanding what the supreme leader has said--he’s allowed these negotiations to go on for a long time. I see his public posture as an effort to try to get a better deal, to get us to concede more. But I think that he also understands that this is a deal in which Iran gains a great deal.

 

Werman: Ambassador Dennis Ross, distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Thanks very much for joining us.

 

Ross: My pleasure. Thank you.