Iranians reacted with delight and relief at news of a landmark nuclear deal with world powers that will end years of bruising economic sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani called the pact a “new chapter” for his country.
“We were never after charity but we were after a fair exchange through talks,” Rouhani said in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday. “None of the sanctions were successful but they had an impact on people’s lives.”
The accord reached overnight in Vienna will curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for a gradual lifting of restrictions that slashed oil exports in half and cut the country off from global finance. While full implementation may take months, the oil-rich nation will be able to increase energy exports, lure global investors and stimulate an economy estimated to be 15 percent to 20 percent smaller than it would have been without sanctions.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate authority, gave crucial backing to the nuclear diplomacy while occasionally issuing warnings over the threat of American imperialism and restating “red lines” his nation wouldn’t cross to win a deal.
Conservative hardliners are more opposed to Rouhani’s engagement with the U.S., a longtime foe, arguing he’s risking the country’s sovereignty and ceding too much ground. The deal reached will also meet resistance in the U.S. Congress, where lawmakers have 60 days to review the document.
On the streets of Iran, the mood was more upbeat with hopes raised that the country’s isolation may be at an end.
Giti, a 48-year-old engineer who didn’t want to give her surname because of sensitivity surrounding speaking to the foreign media, said that young people are optimistic the deal will boost the economy and lead to better living and more jobs.
“I moved back from the U.S. three years ago and every business I’ve tried to set up has just hit a dead end, and I was thinking about going back,” she said. “With the news today, I’m definitely staying.”
Giti was among thousands of Iranians who poured into the major squares in Tehran in celebration and brought traffic to a standstill as motorists beeped their horns and waved flags out the windows. Revelers blew into vuvuzela horns and chanted phrases such as “Rouhani we thank you.”
Hamshahri, the country’s biggest newspaper, ran “Iran’s Day” as its front-page headline and even the hardline Kayhan newspaper struck a positive tone.
The reformist Ghanoun newspaper focused on Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, depicting him as a mythical Persian archer with a red bandana and holding a bow and arrow at the talks.
“We have been waiting for it for so long,” Amir Tehrani, a 34-year-old English teacher, said in Tehran. “I just hope that the pressure on our lives and on the cost of living will be reduced.”
Since taking office nearly two years ago, Rouhani has slowed inflation to about 15 percent from more than 40 percent when the effects of sanctions peaked under the previous government. The economy has started growing again.
Yet for most in Iran, where youth unemployment hovers around 25 percent, life remains tough and supported by government cash handouts. Electricity and water prices have surged, offsetting the subsidies.
“Happiness, that’s all I can say,” said Golbahar Hassanabadi, a 29-year-old artist living in the city of Karaj on the outskirts of Tehran. “These past few days I was very stressed that it wouldn’t happen, and now I have so much hope.”
Others, including Shahnaz Khonsari, an art gallery owner in Tehran, were more restrained.
“We can’t expect this agreement to miraculously fix the messed-up economy, but hopefully it will be a step,” Khonsari said. “It’s going to take time until sanctions are removed, until the impact of the deal becomes clear, until goods can be imported and businesses reinvigorated. But it’s fantastic news.”