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Iranians Remain Cautious After Lifting Of Some Western Sanctions


Iran is trying to seize its moment. Several weeks ago, world powers lifted economic sanctions against Iran as part of a nuclear deal. This is a big opportunity for this partly isolated nation if it can take that opportunity. Our colleague, Steve Inskeep of NPR's Morning Edition, is spending a week in Iran. He arrived on Monday. Hey there, Steve.


CORNISH: So where are you precisely today?

INSKEEP: I am in the city of Shiraz, which is in southern Iran. And it's famous for a number of things, one of them being that it's near the ruins of Persepolis, an agent Iranian capital with ruins that people commonly visit or wish to visit. It hasn't been all that accessible to outsiders, particularly from the United States. But it's one of many places we've been visiting and simply talking with people on the streets as this country struggles towards some kind of opening to the world.

CORNISH: Right. You're talking to them in the aftermath of this lifting of economic sanctions. What are you hearing?

INSKEEP: More pessimism than you might expect. The nuclear deal is done. Many economic sanctions have been lifted, but the economy is in bad shape. There are elections looming, which leads to a certain amount of tension. And in the conversations with ordinary people that we met - this is very unscientific, of course - there is this broad sense of disappointment, a feeling that there's an awful lot of additional work to be done. And that's what analysts are saying, too, that lifting economic sanctions is really just a first step, an initial step, at best, for Iran.

CORNISH: And we heard some of that yesterday on Morning Edition. And for people who missed that piece, you - Steve, you rode Tehran's metro, and you encountered some people in their 20s who were going through some tough times. And I want to play a tape of this one man who said that his whole family was in such a tough situation they had to move to a poor neighborhood.


INSKEEP: You said you were bankrupt for seven years. What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You really - you want the real answer, or should I soften it up for you?

INSKEEP: I've come thousands of miles. Give me the real answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Government pushed my dad over to bankruptcy by giving him some very hard contracts, so he will actually give up his company.

CORNISH: OK, Steven, that young man talking about what he believes is government corruption. You spoke to other people who said they're out of work and want to move. Why isn't this nuclear deal prompting more optimism?

INSKEEP: It's because, even though there are new economic rules, there is new openness, it's the same Iranian government. It's the same Islamic Republic. And there are deep, deep suspicions about the intentions and the capabilities of that government. There are some basic questions here that people are asking inside as well as outside Iran. Can this government really allow an economic opening? Does it really want to? And if there is an opening, can this government really manage one?

CORNISH: Well, what is the government saying?

INSKEEP: Well, the government is certainly eager for investment, but there have also been cases of businessmen detained or questioned by different agencies in the government. There are many suspicions of corruption within the government. And we should remember there are many power centers that do not necessarily agree. We got a clear sense of that today here in the city of Shiraz when we attended Friday prayers. Thousands of people go to a mosque. They listen to a leading cleric. He gives a sermon that is religious but also political. There are coordinated political messages sent across the country. And one part of that message was to beware of parts of the government that might be influenced in the wrong way by the wrong ideas from the outside. And so you have a sense there of one part of Iran's ruling establishment effectively criticizing, making dire warnings against another. You have that sense of conflict here.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Steve Inskeep. He's reporting from Iran this week. He joined us from the city of Shiraz. You can hear more of his reporting from Iran at npr.org. Steve, thanks so much for talking with us.

INSKEEP: Always glad to talk to you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.