Drawn-out nuclear negotiations push Iranians 'into Khamenei's lap'

Iranian citizens are anxiously following nuclear talks in Geneva and some feel that world powers are pushing too hard for concessions.

Fabrice Coffrini/AP
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (second l.), and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (third r.), are pictured during talks over Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. The two top envoys have resumed work on trying to fine tune terms that would start curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief on the Islamic republic.

Iran nuclear talks in Geneva have been a roller-coaster ride of news and emotion.

That ride has been especially excruciating for Iranians at home glued to their television sets, hoping for a deal. For some, the wait has become a reason to give more support to the regime’s nuclear policies. Successive rounds of inconclusive talks have fueled the belief that Iran is being asked to make unreasonable compromises by the West.

Especially grating for Iranians is France's new hard-line positions, which echo those of Israel. They forced the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) to toughen their offer two weeks ago, which ultimately prevented a deal from being signed then. 

“I for one have gone on anti-nuclear marches all my life, and my position on the nuclear issue has been no nuclear power in Iran,” says a Western educated artist in Tehran. “But right now, screw the West, the US, the French and Israel. I want full-on centrifuge activity, and if threatened consistently by the US and Israel as we are, I will have to support even the development of nuclear weapons.”

One beneficiary of this stepped up national pride is Iran’s new negotiating team, which is gaining popular support for holding to Iranian red lines. Another is the ultimate decision maker on Iran’s nuclear program, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has vowed that Iran will not compromise on its "rights."

“I feel cornered by the power Israel and people like [Israeli premier Benjamin] Netanyahu yield in international relations,” says the Tehran artist. “Geneva II was supremely frustrating, and now the wait is too much...it feels that they are being unfair.”

“This is what the West’s attitude does to people like me, the ‘reasonable ones,’” adds the artist. “On this [nuclear issue] they are shoving me into Khamenei’s lap.”

In Geneva today, hopes for a deal rose when Iranian media reported that the P5+1 had “finally” accepted one of Iran’s most significant demands: uranium enrichment on Iranian soil.

Yet late last night, one of Iran’s most senior negotiators said that “no progress” was made on key sticking points, causing hope to recede.

Likewise, the US delegation quietly extended their flight bookings to Sunday – in anticipation of continued talks, and perhaps even the arrival of Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers.

But this morning, Iranian journalists were told to check out their hotel rooms, in case talks ended abruptly today.

“People follow the news as before, from taxi drivers to workers. For them, it is more than a nuclear deal. It is a sign of being respected and recognized by the West,” says an analyst in Tehran who asked not to be named, because it's sensitive to talk to foreign media.

“It’s a kind of reaction to 30 years of humiliation and promoting a demonized picture of Iran as a country and a culture,” says the analyst. “The ‘right’ of Iran is a key word for people, and they strongly support the stand of the negotiating team."

“For many people, Iran has been under pressure not only for the kind of regime [it has] but for its demand to be an independent and also advanced country,” adds the analyst. “It is a common idea in Iran that whenever we try to progress, the West prevented it. So accepting the right of Iran in nuclear energy is a sign of changing this process.” 

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