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World

With Sanctions Lifted, Iranians Wait For A New Day

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Our fellow host, Steve Inskeep, is reporting from Iran this week, a place where tradition has been known to get in the way of transition. It's an experience like few others that, as he found, starts before the plane even lands.

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: (Foreign language spoken).

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: The pilot was muttering landing announcements when the women on board went undercover. A tall woman had been strolling the aisle with flowing hair and skinny jeans, the kind of style choices that are in disfavor where we were going. Abruptly she, like all the other women, covered her hair and pulled on extra clothes, changing so completely that I never picked her out of the crowd again. Soon, we were off the plane, walking down a long corridor to our waiting driver, who took us out into an Iran just relieved of economic sanctions.

The flight that just brought us into Imam Khomeini International Airport, outside Tehran, came in before sunrise, but you can already see the difference since the anticipation. Drivers were standing with placards, signs at the entrance of the airport, inviting in names like Colmer, Simile, Brehm, Lee, names that seemed to come from around the world. A new parking garage is under construction outside the terminal. Beyond that, a Novotel, a European chain hotel has just opened. These signs of openness come after Iran implemented the terms of a nuclear deal. They mix with signs of conservatism in this Islamic Republic. Driving into central Tehran, we heard a faint sound in the night - the early morning Muslim call to prayer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSLIM CALL TO PRAYER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language).

INSKEEP: It played softly on the car radio, mixing with the sound of passing motorcycles.

Starting to get a bit of predawn traffic here.

Our driver, Reza Edwan (ph), said people were rushing into the city. They were seizing their only chance to get into town. During daylight hours, many vehicles are required to stay off the streets of the congested and polluted center city.

And that's just because too many cars in Tehran?

REZA EDWAN: Yeah, I think in Tehran about five million car.

INSKEEP: That's one measure of the scale of the local economy, which until now has been partly cut off from the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: As Reza talked, the music on the radio changed from prayer to melancholy saxophone. We passed through a city still mostly dim, though some high-rise buildings were lit up in decorative purple or green. On one darkened street, a single storefront glowed. Men were in line to buy the first hot bread of the morning. Iranians were starting a new day, not yet sure how different it would be.

MONTAGNE: That's our Steve Inskeep sharing his initial impressions of Iran just weeks after the lifting of nuclear sanctions. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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