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The View From Tehran


We wanted to get a sense of how this is playing out in Tehran, so we've called Arthur MacMillan. He's the deputy bureau chief for Agence France-Presse in Tehran. Arthur MacMillain, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ARTHUR MACMILLAN: You're welcome.

MARTIN: How is the news being received and how is it being delivered in Tehran? What are you hearing?

MACMILLAN: Well, it seemed a very deliberate and calculated release of information. To begin with, the judiciary here, who is the main legal authority, put out a statement on their official website which said that four dual-national citizens have been released. They did not say dual-Americans, but the fact that it was four immediately led to speculation that it could only be the dual Iranian-Americans who, in the end, were, in fact, released. But we have had denials from officials here in Tehran that it was linked to the nuclear negotiations. But really no one is taking those denials seriously.

MARTIN: Well, as you know in the United States, we're in the middle of an election season. And already some of the candidates from the political party other than the current president's have denounced this, saying that it would increase the value of American hostages and so forth. So I was wondering if there are people in Iran who would oppose this, and are they being heard from? And what are they saying?

MACMILLAN: Well, the main forum for people who would have such grievances in Iran is through social networks. And there is some concern being outlined there. Some people are saying that it clearly was evidence that if you're a dual Iranian-American citizen, your life is worth more, some people saying that there are many domestic prisoners in jail here who would have no such recourse to being released. So there's definitely some concern in that area.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Arthur, what's the atmosphere in general when it comes to U.S.-Iranian relations? As I think most people know, there's been hostility between the two countries since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979. But now the historic nuclear deal and then there's this prisoner exchange - is there a sense that there is a turning point afoot there?

MACMILLAN: No, there is no turning point yet. There are a multiplicity of views in Iran about what the future of Iranian-American relations should be. There are many people - and I would have to say, I think the majority of the Iranian population - do not want to see an antagonistic relationship with the United States. But that does not mean that these two countries are going to become friends. Even the government of Iran under Mr. Rouhani - who has pursued this pragmatic foreign policy over the nuclear talks in the last couple of years - he has said that the United States and Iran will have diplomatic relations one day. But that could only happen if the United States apologized for past crimes, as it's described here, against Iran. And I think most people in Washington would see that as a highly unlikely prospect. But there are hardline elements in the regime in Tehran that wishes to have nothing to do with the United States and, frankly, fear what they call infiltration of American culture and economic interests coming into Iran after the nuclear deal. So I think we're in a position where, at least at the moment, under John Kerry and Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, there is undoubtedly a diplomatic channel. But it will be very interesting to note in the next couple years if that high level of contact can be maintained.

MARTIN: That's Arthur MacMillan. He's the Tehran deputy bureau chief for Agence France-Presse, and we reached him today in Tehran. Arthur, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MACMILLAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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