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World

An Iranian Optimist Urges Americans, 'Come See For Yourself'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Iran has been negotiating with Western nations for a nuclear deal, and one Iranian thinks that deal could open up the last big nation on Earth that is not fully integrated into the global economy. He spoke with our colleague, Steve Inskeep, of NPR's Morning Edition on a recent trip to Iran.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: We were late for our meeting with the man. He'd said 6 o'clock at a giant shopping mall in Tehran. Traffic was horrible in the rain. It was 7 before we were standing in a crowd in front of the shopping mall and Naser Hadian spotted us.

Hey, good to see you.

NASER HADIAN: How are you doing?

INSKEEP: He led the way to an outdoor Italian pizza shop. An awning protected the tables from the rain. The space was decorated with plastic flowers and artificial turf. Hadian says this mall is a magnet for Tehran's upper-middle-class.

HADIAN: Very popular with the young, with the youth. It's a place to meet, talk, chat, gab, enjoy life.

INSKEEP: We picked out a table and settled in to talk.

I'm sorry to keep you waiting so long.

He was gracious about it. He's a Tehran University political scientist. He wore a goatee, glasses and a jacket over a sweater. His analysis of Iran's next moves in the world is not universally shared. Iran's political conservatives harbor a deep suspicion of the United States. But Hadian talks positively of Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, who wants to deal with the West. A nuclear deal would ease economic sanctions, helping Iran's severely damaged economy.

HADIAN: Exactly the situation of President Rouhani is not fundamentally different from situation of President Obama, particularly before the midterm election.

INSKEEP: Back then, the U.S. economy was improving, but people didn't feel it. Today, Iran's economy is said to be improving, but people do not feel that. For the moment though, Hadian still believes the people are with their president.

HADIAN: They are generally hopeful and they think he's doing a good job, he's doing his best. And the hope is there and they think with the resolution of the nuclear problem, their situation is going to get better.

INSKEEP: Do you believe this government has the will to make a deal that would include compromise?

HADIAN: Of course. We're going to make the necessary concessions, both of us. The gaps are not all that big.

INSKEEP: Do you think this country is on the edge of a potential wider opening to the world?

HADIAN: Of course. That's not the feeling that we have, but for sure, removal of the sanctions would pave the way for far more involvement of us in the world economy. As some have argued, we are the last most important economy of the world which are not yet fully incorporated in the world economy.

INSKEEP: I'm delighted to mention that as we're talking here in this Italian restaurant, a couple of gentlemen with guitars are tuning up. I guess we're going to be serenaded in a moment.

HADIAN: (Laughter). Yes, we're going to have a little live music here too, but hopefully they are not going to begin until our interview is finished.

INSKEEP: It became clear that the guitarists were not going to hold off until the interview was finished, but we continued talking as long as we could.

What would you say to Americans who will say, whatever you think, this is a country run by Ayatollahs, they have an apocalyptic vision of the world, they can't be trusted, there's no reason that they're going to be rational. You're smiling a little bit as I say these things, but you know these things are said in the United States.

HADIAN: Yeah, the answer is very simple. Come to Iran. Come and see it yourself. Iran is not a monolithic society, we have differences of opinion. There are different groups. We have hardliners, we have moderates, we have reformists, we have radicals, you know? All of them are competing in the Iranian politics.

INSKEEP: All of them competing, just as we were beginning to compete with the sound of the guitars. Naser Hadian laid out a vision of Iran five years from now if a nuclear deal is struck. He is hoping a state more fully at peace with the West would be driven less by security concerns. A state less worried about its survival might respond to its people's demands to open more fully to the world.

HADIAN: More competition and more human rights observance. And for sure, it is going to be a better economic situation as well, which for the absolute majority of Iranians, that is the number one issue.

INSKEEP: By now, we were struggling to pay attention to Naser Hadian's insights.

Can I just mention - I'm not sure, but I believe that the guitar players are playing "Hotel California" by the Eagles as we talk in this Italian restaurant in Tehran. This is great. So, we're in a somewhat globalized place already.

HADIAN: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Naser Hadian is hoping a nuclear agreement becomes a catalyst. It could take the spirit of this Italian restaurant, with its American music in Teheran, and spread that global sensibility through more of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.