Iranians relieved sanctions will end soon

Iranians celebrating in the streets of Tehran following a nuclear deal with major powers.
Iranians celebrating in the streets of Tehran following a nuclear deal with major powers. PHOTO: REUTERS

TEHERAN • Iranians reacted with delight and relief at the news of a landmark nuclear deal sealed with world powers, an accord which promises to end years of bruising sanctions that have caused the prices of basic necessities to surge.

"We have been waiting for it for so long," 34-year-old Amir Tehrani, who is an English teacher, said.

"I just hope that the pressure on our lives and on the cost of living will be reduced."

The accord reached in Vienna will curb Iran's nuclear programme in return for a gradual lifting of restrictions that slashed oil exports in half and cut the country off from global finance.

While full implementation may take months, the oil-rich nation will be able to increase energy exports, lure global investors and stimulate an economy estimated to be 15 to 20 per cent smaller than it would have been without sanctions.

While President Hassan Rouhani has slowed inflation to about 15 per cent from more than 40 per cent since he took office two years ago, life remains tough for most in Iran. Many survive on government handouts and youth unemployment hovers around 25 per cent. Electricity and water prices have surged, offsetting relief from the payments.

Yesterday's agreement raised hope that Iran's isolation may be at an end. Hamshahri, the country's biggest newspaper, ran "Iran's Day" as its front-page headline. Even the hardline Kayhan newspaper struck a positive tone.

With news of the agreement coming as many people were still at work, celebrations were expected to go into the night.

"Happiness, that's all I can say," said artist Golbahar Hassanabadi, 29. But others, including Mr Mohammad-Reza Eini, 30, a documentary film-maker, were more restrained. "I'm a bit suspicious," he said. "I want to enjoy the news, but I can't be that hopeful because of the political situation in the country - they've been talking about it so long and I still can't work out whether I will benefit."

Hardliners have opposed Mr Rouhani's engagement with the US, a long-time foe, arguing he is conceding too much ground and risking the country's sovereignty. The deal reached in Vienna will also meet resistance in the US Congress where lawmakers have 60 days to review the document.

But the deal marks a triumph for Mr Rouhani, an establishment insider who staked his reputation on engaging pragmatically with the West and had to see off challenges from conservative factions. As Iran's negotiating team criss-crossed the globe to seal the nuclear deal, the 66-year-old cleric worked tirelessly at home to keep up support for an agreement and convince all sectors of Iranian society that it was in their interests. "We want the nation to be happy and productive, to have a bright economy and social welfare - and to have (uranium) centrifuges too," he told a rally last month.

The bulk of sanctions on Iran will remain in place until United Nations inspectors confirm Teheran's compliance with the agreement. Hardliners are expected to use this to accuse the President of making too many concessions.

Mr Rouhani has so far insulated himself from hardliners largely with the support of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But many observers believe Ayatollah Khamenei and other hardliners may take a firmer line with him after the deal.

"Now that the President has outmanoeuvred his rivals on the nuclear front, they are likely to try to block him on other fronts," said Mr Ali Vaez, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'Iranians relieved sanctions will end soon'. Print Edition | Subscribe