Iran’s top officials hail nuclear deal as beginning of new era


An Iranian girl reads a copy of the “Iran” newspaper with a headline translating “Third Geneva meeting was historical” outside a kiosk in a street of Tehran on Sunday. (ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EPA)
November 24, 2013

Iran’s top officials on Sunday welcomed the initial agreement struck with world powers over its nuclear activities, hailing the deal as the beginning of a new era for the Islamic republic, both in its relations with other countries and for its sanctions-ravaged economy.

“Trust is, of course, a two-way street, and we must also find this trust in others. The first step in creating that trust has been taken,” Iran’s new president, the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani, said in a statement broadcast live on television Sunday morning.

Addressing concerns over the language in the agreement between the six world powers and Iran regarding Tehran’s ability to continue work on its nuclear program, Rouhani said, “Let anyone make his own reading, but this right is clearly stated in the text of the agreement that Iran can continue its enrichment, and I announce to our people that our enrichment activities will continue as before.”

Rouhani, who was joined on the broadcast by the families of several Iranian nuclear scientists who were assassinated in recent years, also reiterated what Iran claims is the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.

“Let me say once more, the Iranian nation does not want nuclear weapons,” Rouhani said, referring to the accusations that Iran is attempting to build a bomb as “one of those funny jokes of history.”

President Obama says the U.S. has agreed to provide Iran with "modest relief" from sanctions as part of a deal on the country's nuclear program. (Associated Press)

A key point for Tehran throughout the negotiations with the group of world powers has been a clear path to reductions in the sanctions that have wrought havoc on Iran’s economy in recent years.

One of the achievements of Sunday’s agreement, according to Rouhani, is that “the sanctions will be broken. The cracks in the sanctions began last night, and in the future those gaps will be grow.”

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has long doubted the sincerity of Western leaders, expressed guarded approval of the agreement.

Responding to a letter from Rouhani, Khamenei thanked the efforts of Iran’s negotiating team, led by foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, but asked the members to continue their vigilance in dealing with old enemies.

“God willing, standing against the arrogant powers is and will be the main criteria on the path forward for those in charge of this issue,” Khamenei wrote.

While the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive to the announcement of the initial agreement in Tehran, some conservative lawmakers are giving signs that they may try to short-circuit any deal.

“Our minister of foreign affairs says something, the U.S. secretary of state says something else, our television and 8 a.m. news are all saying things that are contradictory. We want to help the government, but the Geneva agreement must be ratified by the parliament,” Hamid Rasaei, a cleric and hard-line parliament member, told fellow lawmakers on Sunday.

Throughout Sunday Iranian state media went to great lengths to say that the deal was in Iran’s favor, with the news ticker highlighting the rights that Iran will retain, the promise of reduced sanctions and quotes from Israeli lawmakers who called the agreement a “win” for Iran.

It is the hope for improved economic prospects that is capturing the attention of most people here.

“Let the world know that we do not have a dispute with any country. Now that sanctions are going to be relaxed, our economy will start growing and people will feel better. I hope the end result becomes reduction of prices to ease people’s lives,” said Mahmood Gerami, a 48-year-old shopkeeper in Tehran.

Authorities are counting on that positive sentiment to help jump-start Iran’s long-slumping economy, and the first sign that the agreement is having that effect was a early-morning rise of nearly 2 percent in the value of Iran’s national currency, the rial, against the U.S. dollar.

“Some of our economic problems are related to psychological issues, especially the prices of gold coins and currencies’ exchange rates. This negative effect will diminish and ultimately disappear because of this agreement,” Yahya Ale Eshagh, head of Tehran’s Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview with the state-run Mehr News agency.

Others remain cautious in their optimism, acknowledging the heavy burden that Iran has faced in fighting to maintain its nuclear program.

“I’m happy to hear the news of an agreement, but I doubt that change will come soon or easily,” said Aida Sarbandian, a 34-year-old secretary. “So many problems have piled on top of each other especially during the last four years, and it will take time to solve them. But all in all, this is a breakthrough.”

The deal comes on Rouhani’s 99th day in office and the milestone was an important one for the administration, which has had few measurable successes in its early months.

“I’m happy that before my first 100 days finished we had this victory,” Rouhani said.

Jason Rezaian has been The Post’s correspondent in Tehran since 2012. He was previously a freelance writer based in Tehran.
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