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Rouhani Press Conference Gives View Into Iran's Reaction To End Of Sanctions


And we're reporting this morning on the changes in U.S. foreign policy towards Iran. President Obama said this morning that Iran has held up its part of the nuclear deal signed over the summer. As a result, international economic sanctions in place for the last decade have been lifted, and Iran has released five American prisoners. In exchange, the U.S. has released seven Iranian prisoners. Earlier this morning, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani spoke to his nation. And to learn how Iranians are reacting to all this news, we have called up Thomas Erdbrink of The New York Times. He's in Tehran, and joins me now on the line. Thomas, thanks for being with us.

THOMAS ERDBRINK: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: You were there at that press conference where President Hassan Rouhani spoke. What were the big takeaways?

ERDBRINK: Well, he is - he described a new Iran, a country in which the - everybody would be able to make financial transactions with other countries. A country where the government would be able to sell oil and gas. A country where foreigners, even Americans, are welcome to come and make investments. And of course, he was describing all the things that since or as of Saturday evening, Iranians are able to do because the sanctions that you just mentioned have been lifted. So he was incredibly upbeat.

MARTIN: Did he have any reaction in the press conference to the new round of sanctions that have been issued to Iran over its ballistic missile program?

ERDBRINK: No. That was actually really a bit of a surprise for those who are supporting Mr. Rouhani and officials in his government. Mr. Rouhani even commented on the United States. He said that there's no obstacle for American businesses to come and invest here. And an hour later, there's the news of the new sanctions over Iran's ballistic missile program. Now while they might not sound as elaborate as the previous sanctions, it is definitely a blow for Mr. Rouhani and his government because Iran's supreme leader, the man who is even more powerful than the president, has said on numerous occasions that after the nuclear deal, there should be no new sanctions whatsoever. So it will be interesting to see what his reaction and that of Iranian hardliners will be to this new decision.

MARTIN: You wrote a piece in The Times today saying that reaction in Tehran has been fairly muted to the lifting of the economic sanctions which, for years, Iranians have described as being incredibly oppressive. I would have thought there would have been more positive reaction.

ERDBRINK: Absolutely. But on the other hand, try and imagine that you live in a place where constantly, promises of a better future are made, where you are closely following a political process that have no influence over, the nuclear negotiations, that these negotiations go on for two-and-a-half years. And every other month, you are promised a new milestone or sort of a horizon in the distance when - where things will be better, where green pastures await. And if they don't come and if you don't see this in direct improvement in your life, then of course it's hard to come out on the streets and wave flags and celebrate things that we have seen in the past. So I'm not surprised that Iranians have grown a little bit cynical and are now taking a wait-and-see approach.

MARTIN: President Obama, in his remarks this morning, pointed directly at the Iranian people and said it is now up to you to define where you want your country to be and what you want your country's relationship to be with a larger community of nations. How do you see this moment unfolding in Iran?

ERDBRINK: Well, I would say that - I would think that a lot of people would probably be a bit cynical as well because in the end, it were in the United States and Europe and the United Nations that they placed these sanctions on Iran. So they will say if you don't put new sanctions on us, yeah. Then we can have a better future.

MARTIN: Thomas Erdbrink of The New York Times speaking to us from Tehran. Thank you so much.

ERDBRINK: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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