In Iran, morale frag­ile as nu­clear talks stum­ble

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY CYRIL JULIEN AND BA­HAR SHOGHI

For Amir Mogh­tader the wait­ing has be­come a tor­ment. Un­cer­tainty is the cause, but as the clock ticks down he still hopes there can be a nu­clear deal for Iran.

“I don’t know what the so­lu­tion is, but the gov­ern­ment should find it and it should ben­e­fit both sides,” he says, parked at Ar­gen­tine Square, a busy in­ter­sec­tion for work­ers en­ter­ing and leav­ing cen­tral Tehran.

The 52-year-old taxi driver, like all Ira­ni­ans, has be­come ac­cus­tomed to wait­ing. But while diplo­mats bar­gain abroad over terms that could end a 13-year cri­sis over the Is­lamic re­pub­lic’s nu­clear pro­gramme, minds are filled with doubt and fear about the even­tual out­come.

A pre-emp­tive an­nounce­ment at talks in Vi­enna that a third dead­line for a deal is likely to be missed on Tues­day has only added to the un­cer­tainty.

Mogh­tader is tired of the strug­gle. He may not be in oil or fi­nance, the two big­gest in­dus­tries af­fected by Western sanc­tions on Iran, but the eco­nomic fall­out has hit him all the same.

“If I have to buy a spare part for my car, I have to pay the equiv­a­lent price in dol­lars, but what I get from my cus­tomers is ri­als,” he says, al­lud­ing to in­fla­tion that has seen Iran’s cur­rency shed two thirds of its value since 2011, when the nu­clear cri­sis be­gan to en­gulf the econ­omy.

“We are all un­der pres­sure. hope there can be a deal.”

De­spite agree­ing the out­lines of an agree­ment on April 2, the fi­nal talks be­tween Iran and six pow­ers led by the United States on turn­ing it into a bind­ing ac­cord have hit dif­fi­cul­ties.

A deal would lift sanc­tions, paving the way for for­eign in­vest­ment to flow back, in ex­change for curbs on Iran’s nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties.

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But an in­sis­tence from the West for ac­cess and in­spec­tions at nu­clear and mil­i­tary sites, to ver­ify that Iran’s nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties are peace­ful, seems to have thrown an agree­ment into jeop­ardy again.

Iran’s supreme leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, just four days be­fore the cur­rent talks started, ruled mil­i­tary in­spec­tions out.

And days later Iran’s lead ne­go­tia­tor in the talks said some of the world pow­ers had changed their po­si­tions on what was agreed in April,

by re­cently mak­ing new de­mands.

Fears for Oil Sec­tor

Brinkman­ship at a crunch point in ne­go­ti­a­tions is just pol­i­tics to Ah­mad As­gari, an oil and gas con­sul­tant, but the fi­nal out­come is piv­otal.

A deal could bring a step change to his in­dus­try. Fail­ure in the talks could fin­ish him.

“My fear is that if there is no deal my com­pany will shut down,” he says. “We can­not en­dure this sit­u­a­tion any­more. I have spent all my sav­ings.”

Hav­ing once em­ployed 100 peo­ple, only 20 re­main on the pay­roll at the As­so­ci­a­tion of Petroleum In­dus­try En­gi­neer­ing and Con­struc­tion Com­pa­nies ( APEC), where As­gari is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor.

He says sanc­tions have meant very few projects in the past eight years, with the most re­cent re­stric­tions on bank­ing in 2012 dry­ing up fi­nance and cash­flow and hin­der­ing im­ports of vi­tal equip­ment.

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