There is a feeling of cautious optimism in streets of Tehran, as news of the first high-level meeting between the United States and Iran took place last week. American Sectary of State John Kerry described the Thursday meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif, as "constructive." This sentiment was echoed by Zarif, who commented that "I'm satisfied with this first step. Now we have to see whether we can match our positive words with serious deeds so that we can move forward."
Iranians have suffered under a harsh regime of sanctions imposed by the United States, which has driven up living costs beyond what many people can afford. In 2012, when the United States imposed newer and harsher sanctions, the Iranian rial lost 80% of its value in the first 10 months of the new sanctions. Basic goods from foodstuffs to medicine became unaffordable to many. On top of this, Iranians had to live under the constant shadow of a potential Israeli-U.S. air strike ... or worse. News of talks between the United States and Iran has been greeted cautiously but optimistically by Iranians.
This optimism has been present ever since Rouhani was elected president last June, when thousands of Iranians held street parties celebrating the results. I have been speaking to some Iranian acquaintances over the last week and while the mood was positive, they understand that the road ahead was long. One told me that "Iranians want peace, we are tired of all the problems, the sanctions and threats of war. I think it is good that the Americans want to meet. But the sanctions must end — if the Americans are serious about peace then the only genuine way to express this is to lift the sanctions."
The meetings between the two countries centered on future talks about Iran's nuclear program and not sanctions. The nuclear program is not a major issue for many Iranians and diplomatic overtures between the two have been made before, but led nowhere. Because of this Iranian optimism, over the talks is coupled with caution, many respond to the talks by saying "It's good. But let's wait and see."
Meanwhile, Rouhani declared that "no country had the right" to a nuclear arsenal and that Israel should sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran's official position remains that it is not building nuclear weapons and the Middle East should be a nuclear free zone. The Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued and re-issued a Fatwa (religious decree) that Iran would not build nuclear weapons. In other words, Rouhani is only re-affirming Iran's long-standing position
But the U.S.'s consisted insistence otherwise does make many in Tehran wonder about American intentions. Ultimately, this first step is an important one and if it is followed through it could lead to a re-drawing of the geo-political map and help bring stability to the region. Iranians do have reason to be optimistic.