Iranians upbeat as nuclear deal could ease sanctions
'After these negotiations, I'm confident the situation here will improve,' Tehran carpet vendor says
CBC News correspondents Derek Stoffel and Nahlah Ayed are reporting from inside Iran as the deadline nears for a final agreement on the country's nuclear program.
Tehran's grand bazaar has for centuries been a symbol of Iranian economic power. The rows of shops selling everything from Persian carpets to pistachio nuts are impressive, if not intimidating, and first-time visitors often get lost in the sprawling streets that make up this vast covered market.
But a decrease in sales at many shops in the bazaar mirrors the larger economic problems that have hurt Iran's economy in recent years, largely due to international sanctions imposed since 2002, when the country's nuclear program was made public.
The prospect of an international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions — and ease sanctions — has many of the bazaaris, or shopkeepers, feeling more optimistic.
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"After these negotiations, I am confident the situation here will improve," said a carpet vendor named Majid, who did not feel comfortable giving his last name to a foreign journalist.
The next 10 days are critical, as the negotiations to reach a final deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany get underway.
Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, meets his counterparts from the European Union on Monday.
A framework deal was reached between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group in Switzerland in April. They hope to ink a final agreement by the end of June, although already several of the parties involved have hinted that the deadline may be extended.
In Tehran, it's clear the entire country is watching — and there is much support for an agreement that could ease sanctions and boost the flagging economy.
"Right now we live in a very difficult situation," said Ali Taleb, an electrical technician. "For me, the price of gasoline is a real concern.
"The nuclear deal will really affect our economic situation."
Economic growth has suffered under the sanctions, and Iranians say it's difficult to make ends meet. Food and other retail prices have jumped significantly, while the country is still reeling from years of high inflation.
But there are many who remain skeptical.
"I'm not very optimistic," said Mehrdad Kazemi, who sells watches at the grand bazaar. "I'm rather pessimistic, because I think the United States isn't being honest with Iran. They don't want to resolve the problem over the nuclear issue. They're not serious."
In a move Sunday that could complicate the negotiations, Iran's parliament passed a bill that would impose strict conditions on a final agreement.
The draft law would require sanctions to be lifted immediately and bar UN inspectors from visiting military sites, a stipulation that France and the United States have already said they will not accept.
"We all agree that the nuclear sites can be checked and monitored by the world powers," said Abdullah Tahimi, an Iranian parliamentarian who sits on the energy committee, which has oversight over the nuclear deal. "There is no problem for them to come and to pay a visit to our nuclear sites. But it's a different story about our military sites.
"We will never allow them to have this privilege, because this is the red line and it mustn't be crossed," Tahimi told CBC News.
As the draft bill was passed, some hardline lawmakers chanted "Death to America" while raising their fists in the air in the chamber.
But more than 70 per cent of the country's citizens are under the age of 39, and many young people in Iran dismiss these kinds of antics as showmanship from a bygone area.
"I've never chanted 'Death to America'," said the electrical technician Ali Taleb.
"Those who do this do not represent me. We need to resolve our problems through friendship, diplomacy and discussions with the world powers. This is not the time for a war."