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U.S., Iran Not Hopelessly Far Apart On Details Of A Nuclear Deal


People watching the nuclear talks with Iran are using the phrase political will. Here's why. Experts say the U.S. and Iran are not hopelessly far apart on the technical details of how to limit Iran's nuclear program. So the question is whether each country has the political will to approve a final agreement. Our colleague Steve Inskeep is reporting from Tehran and today found himself standing among a group of Iranian schoolgirls.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRLS: (Chanting in foreign language).

MARTIN: Steve, what where these girls saying?

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Well, they were chanting death to Israel, death to England, death to America, which are common phrases in Tehran. They were flowing all around me while walking into a ceremony celebrating the anniversary of Iran's 1979 revolution. They were on their way - a little bit late, by the way - to hear a speech by Iran's president.

And I sent you that sound, Rachel, because it gets to the heart of the question here. Iran's revolution 36 years ago was born, in part, of resistance to the United States. Iranian leaders remained profoundly suspicious of U.S. intentions. And the question is whether they can find the political support to make painful compromises.

MARTIN: So Iran's president, Steve, Hassan Rouhani - the new president - came into office on a promise of improving Iran's relations with the world, did he not?

INSKEEP: Well, he certainly did. And he was speaking at this ceremony that the young women - the girls - were attending. But remember, he doesn't have full power here. Just as our president has a Congress, President Rouhani has a legislature. He's also got military leaders who are powerful and, far more important, a cleric - a lot of clerics, actually, led by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who's been profoundly skeptical of a deal. And the president has been criticized constantly by conservatives here.

MARTIN: OK, what's the nature of that criticism?

INSKEEP: Well, it's very similar to the criticism that President Obama has faced in Washington - essentially, the criticism that Rouhani is giving away the store, that he's giving away all his leverage for nothing. The details here are really, really complicated, but the essential bargain on the table is simple. The U.S. wants assurances Iran will never build a nuclear bomb, and Iran wants relief from global sanctions. Americans fear Iran is going to get out of the sanctions without really giving up the ability to build a nuclear weapon. And Iranian conservatives fear the mirror image of that - that they're going to surrender their nuclear program without really getting out of the sanctions.

MARTIN: So how does President Rouhani respond to that?

INSKEEP: Well, I listened to his speech, which echoed across this crowd of thousands in Tehran. And he made an argument that he's not surrendering here. He's grabbing an opportunity. And his minister for trade, industry and mines fleshed out the opportunity as they see it in an interview with us at the fringes of the ceremony. The minister's name is Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh. And he said that lifting economic sanctions could bring benefits in industry after industry. Economists, by the way, have talk about autos, petrochemicals and much more. Let's listen to the minister here.

MOHAMMAD REZA NEMATZADEH: Well, I think it will take some time. We will come gradually to a normal condition. And I'm sure it will be all an improvement.

INSKEEP: Could it transform Iran's economy over time?

NEMATZADEH: Yes, we will transform to a new era, of course.

INSKEEP: A new era, he said there. And Iranian business leaders, by the way, see huge opportunities for one of the last major economies that has yet to fully open to the world.

MARTIN: You talked about the trust gap, Steve. We know the U.S. doesn't trust Iran. Iran doesn't trust the U.S. Is some of that justified?

INSKEEP: In a way it is. President Obama has said he's not just worried about Iran's nuclear program. He's worried about Iran's adventurism - supporting groups like Hezbollah. And conservatives here that I've spoken with have picked up on that. They've said look, the United States is just looking for excuses to keep us down. And Iran's supreme leader - while he said he's open to this deal, he's also adding conditions and insisting that Iran get guarantees that it not in some way be tricked here and end up with the sanctions not lifted. It's a tough deal to strike.

MARTIN: NPR's Steve Inskeep reporting from the Iranian capital Tehran. Thanks so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: Glad to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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