Ahead of New Year, Iranians hope for a nuclear deal

Ahead of New Year, Iranians hope for a nuclear deal
Iranian vendors wait for customers at Tehran's grand bazaar.

TEHRAN - After years of false starts in nuclear talks with the West, most Iranians are beginning their New Year hopeful of a decisive deal to end over a decade of punishing sanctions.

But many remain wary that an agreement with the United States and other world powers is possible - or even, for some hardliners, desirable - after 12 years of bitter dispute that has included periodic threats of war.

"All the nation is hopeful," said Azadeh Kajkolah, a 30-year-old housewife doing last minute shopping in the capital's fabled Grand Bazaar on Wednesday, the last official work day before Nowruz, (Persian New Year) on March 21.

"I saw on TV that they have reached peace on 90 per cent of the issues," she said, thanking Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who on Tuesday said "sooner or later we will see results".

Nuclear talks, which took many by surprise when they officially restarted in 2013 after secret meetings between Iranian and US officials, could end Western sanctions on Iran and temper Tehran's long isolation.

Kajkolah reserved special praise for Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's chief negotiator, describing him as "a knowledgeable man who knows diplomacy." But it is the Islamic Republic's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will have the final word on any deal.

With Nowruz falling at 2:15 am on Saturday (2245 GMT Friday), a speech later that day by Khamenei is attracting ever higher interest.

As a March 31 deadline for a political agreement approaches, people are eager for signs that he will give his assent.

Successful enough?

Davoud Hermidas-Bavand, a veteran political analyst and university lecturer in Tehran, believes a deal is within reach.

"I expect it's going to be successful enough," he said when asked if Iran would feel it has got what it wanted out of negotiations.

For now, key differences remaining between Iran and six world powers - Britain, China, France, Russia, the US and Germany - include the process of lifting sanctions and the amount of uranium Tehran would be allowed to enrich in future.

Iran denies seeking an atomic bomb, though opponents of the talks say any final deal - due by the end of June - would allow it to become a nuclear threshold state.

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