Negotiating team greeted as returning heroes as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's support mutes hawks and hardliners
The Guardian, November 24, 2013
Iran's nuclear negotiating team have returned home to a hero's welcome as the country's leaders and its people united in celebration of a historic agreement in Geneva which they hope will reduce the threat of war and lead to an ease in economic sanctions.
A group of jubilant Iranians, including family members of nuclear scientists assassinated in recent years, gathered at Tehran's Mehrabad airport, carrying placards and chanting slogans in support of the deal that was secured after five days of gruelling talks, according to the state Irna news agency.
"The ambassador for peace, welcome home," posted one Iranian on Twitter, referring to foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose popularity in office has significantly surged in recent years.
The buoyancy was felt elsewhere in Iran on Sunday, the first day of the working week. Iran's national currency, the rial, also recovered its value against the dollar by at least 3%.
In the early hours of Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Iranians stayed up through the night to follow the minute-by-minute coverage of negotiations in Geneva's Intercontinental hotel on satellite television or via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. "It's 5am and I'm still awake here in [the central city] of Yazd," tweeted one user.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the president, Hassan Rouhani, hailed their country's negotiating team within hours of them reaching an agreement with the west as hawks and hardliners held back fire on the assumption that the deal was approved by officials at the highest level.
"Tomorrow is the 100th day since cabinet was formed and government has been in office. Glad to have reached agreement before 100th day," Rouhani tweeted.
Rouhani gave a speech to reporters in Tehran, broadcast live on the national television, in which he said the achievements in Geneva were the results of the Iranian people's vote for moderation.
"In this agreement, the right of Iranian nation to enrich uranium was accepted by world powers," he said. "With this agreement … the architecture of sanctions will begin to break down."
On Sunday, Rouhani paid tribute to the Iranian nuclear scientists who have been assassinated in recent years, and met with a number of their family members.
The president also wrote a letter to Khamenei congratulating him on the achievements made in Geneva.
"World powers have come to the conclusion that sanctions and pressures will prove futile, and, as Iran stated from the very beginning, there is no way to reach agreement but through mutual respect and respectful negotiations," he wrote in his letter.
In his response to Rouhani's letter, Khamenei issued his verdict on the deal, calling it a success.
"This can be the basis for further intelligent actions. Without a doubt the grace of God and the prayers of the Iranian nation were a factor in this success," Khamenei said in his letter. Hardliners were largely kept at bay due to Khamenei's explicit support for the deal.
In Tehran, the view from ordinary Iranians was jubilant.
"If this negotiating team were in the place of the administration we put up with for for eight years, we would never have gotten into this situation," said Parsa, a 29-year-old artist. "We can't be idealists in this situation – there had to be compromise on both sides.
She added that it was important that Iran had maintained the right to enrich uranium. "As an Iranian, I don't like the concept of a nuclear bomb, but it's unfair that Western countries are saying we shouldn't have it if they themselves do. We shouldn't lose the logic for the rhetoric."
"Domestically, it's a big win for the reformists – they solved the problem in three months, just because they are confident, intelligent and understand the global language. From that perspective, it's a huge snub to the conservative part of this regime."
But Mehdi, an accountant in his 30s, said that as long as the effects of sanctions continue to leave their mark, and social and economic pressures remain, he looks to the future with caution.
"I'm optimistic," he says. "But my eyes are open."
An ice cream vendor from north Tehran, who did not wish to give his name, expressed scepticism that anything would change.
"It's like a good dream. You know, when you wake up in the middle of the night from a good dream, and no matter how much you try – when you put your head back down [on the pillow] to try to sleep again, you can't bring back that dream again," he said.
Zarif spoke in English to foreign journalists in Geneva after shaking hands with his western counterparts at the Palais des Nations, but changed his tone and language when he gave a separate exclusive interview minutes later to Iranian press in Persian, which was broadcast live on national TV.
To his domestic audience, he sold the deal by highlighting that Iran's Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities will not be shut down according to the deal and Iran will not ship any nuclear material out of the country.
"The [nuclear] programme has been recognised and the Iranian people's right to use the peaceful nuclear technology based on the NPT (non-proliferation treaty) … as an inalienable right has been recognised and countries are necessitated not to create any obstacle on its way," Zarif said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
"None of the enrichment centres will be closed and Fordow and Natanz will continue their work and the Arak heavy water programme will continue in its present form and no material (enriched uranium stockpiles) will be taken out of the country and all the enriched materials will remain inside the country. The current sanctions will move towards decrease, no sanctions will be imposed and Iran's financial resources will return," he added.
"This is a great success that the attempts made by the Zionist regime's leaders to misrepresent Iran's peaceful nuclear programme and the Iranian people's face were foiled," he said.
Iranian national TV, in an unprecedented move, also broadcast live with Persian translation the statement by US secretary of state, John Kerry, to the press in Geneva.