Is nuclear deal a victory, or deception? In Iran, it depends who's asking.

Moderate and reformist camps in Iran have lauded the nuclear deal, but hard-liners see American manipulation at every turn.

Hemmat Khahi/ISNA/AP
Iranians hold posters of President Hassan Rouhani as they welcome Iranian nuclear negotiators upon their arrival from Geneva at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013.

As Iranians debate the wisdom of the milestone nuclear deal reached in Geneva, officials are emphasizing precisely the opposite aspects of the deal that their American counterparts prefer to highlight.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pointed out that Iran will keep all its nuclear facilities intact, and that Iran’s ability to enrich uranium – an Iranian red line for a decade – will be preserved in any future, final deal. US officials, by contrast, noted that Iran had given up its most sensitive 20-percent enriched uranium, will not expanding its nuclear work in any way, and had agreed to far more intrusive inspections in exchange for “very limited” incentives.

So who got the better deal?

In the politicized media landscape in Iran – a country with its own version of the US Tea Party, which is on constant political attack – the answer depends upon whom you ask. 

“To any fair person even with the most cynical judgment, the agreement is a relative victory for the Islamic Republic of Iran and the admirable efforts of the negotiating team,” wrote Mohammad Kazem Anbarlouei in the conservative Resalat newspaper, echoing support for the deal across Iran’s political spectrum.

“There is no doubt that we have given some concessions…but in return we have ceased their mischievous threats of war and sanctions,” Mr. Anbarlouei wrote. “The first question, is such a deal balanced? The answer [no] is obvious. Even if it is not balanced…the fact that five nuclear and economic powers spent hours face-to-face to negotiate and bargain shows our authority.”

The more left-leaning media hailed the deal as a historic breakthrough, perhaps as significant as any in decades between Iran and the outside world. They covered their front pages with images that emphasized a public handshake between Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Zarif at the signing ceremony, with American and Iranian flags in the background.

But the hard-line Kayhan newspaper – whose editor Hossein Shariatmadari is an official representative of Ayatollah Khamenei – ran the provocative headline: “America was not trustworthy: Geneva agreement lasted one hour.”

Kayhan criticized Kerry for insisting in a press conference immediately after the deal was reached that it made no provision for uranium enrichment in Iran during a six-month timeframe, and put heavy caveats on future enrichment. Shariatmadari also reported what US officials have stated again and again, that the “fundamental structure of sanctions is still intact.”

“Once again, this reality has been confirmed that America is not trustworthy and that we should not be deceived by the deceptive smiles of American diplomats and officials,” Kayhan wrote. It warned the Iranian media to “not raise expectations by suggesting victory and making people excited.”

But the tone of Iran’s reformist and moderate media seemed to resonate with many ordinary Iranians. For them, the deal held out the promise of an easing of economic pain brought on by sanctions and mismanagement and a potential end to Iran's isolation.

Some Iranians were quoted as saying that the Geneva accord was only the third piece of good news for the nation in years, after Rouhani's shock June election, and Iran's qualification for the World Cup soccer finals. Both prompted street celebrations in Iran. 

A sigh of relief

The deal yielded a “set of achievements” for Iran, Ali Khorram, a former ambassador to the UN, wrote in the reformist Arman newspaper. These ranged from a freeze on new sanctions to preserving the “fundamentals of Iran’s nuclear industry."

"The entire world, including the people of Iran, breathed a sigh of relief," Mr. Khorram said. 

Just as in the West, the arguments in Iran also delved into the strategic implications of the deal. Mr. Anbarlouei argued, for example, that while world powers may have needed a deal with Iran for their own security, Iran's security was not part of the deal.

Noting that the US had thousands of nuclear warheads, and Iran's regional rival Israel has an estimated 200 nuclear bombs, Anbarlouei said “they are a threat for Iran because they mention the military option frequently; what part of the agreement then guarantees security for the Islamic Republic?”

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