Friday, September 01, 2006

KRT Wire | 08/31/2006 | On the streets of Tehran, citizens fear becoming world pariah

KRT Wire | 08/31/2006 | On the streets of Tehran, citizens fear becoming world pariah:

"On the streets of Tehran, ordinary Iranians were quick Thursday to jump into the debate and express their fears about the consequences of Iran ignoring the UN demand, even as they defended their country's right to develop its nuclear energy capacity.

Shopkeepers in this capital city's main bazaar stopped their transactions to converse about the dilemma. Shoppers, some buying crystal bowls and others bargaining down the price of jeans, were adamant in defending Iran's quest but downbeat about the rewards of defying world powers.

Few said they doubted that the United States, at odds with Iran since its Islamic revolution more than 27 years ago, would seek to inflict economic pain on the country.

Businessmen feared that sanctions will lead to a steep economic downturn in an already sluggish market. Others wondered aloud about psychological fall-out in a country filled with young people eager for possibilities beyond their nation's borders.

None of their worries were eased by the news that their president maintained a strident tone. Ahmadinejad told a crowd of thousands in the northwestern city of Orumiyeh that "Iran will not back down an inch in the face of intimidation, aggression and will not accept being deprived of its rights.

"Only enemies of the country were trying to stir up differences among the people," Ahmadinejad said, "but I tell them: `You are wrong. The Iranian nation is united.'"

Bush, in a speech in Salt Lake City, kept up the pressure on Iran, insisting that "there must be consequences" for Tehran if it doesn't comply with the UN demands.

In Tehran, some Iranians' reactions raised questions about the president's boasts of Iranian unity. One husband and wife, married for 30 years, sparred in the open walkway of the ancient market over who was to blame for the latest dispute between Iran and the outside world.

"The capitalists," growled Safar Nazari about the role of the United States in forcing a showdown with Iran. "The mullahs," said his 48-year-old wife Masoumeh, shrouded in black robes, about the clerics who hold sway over most decision-making in the Islamic Republic.

Azam Zamanpour, a 21-year-old student standing outside a clothing store, pleaded at first that she didn't want to talk about the sanctions - and held out for all of about five seconds before blasting her own government.

"OK, I have a message: Impose all kinds of sanctions," she said. "Impose everything you can so we can see all the problems here. America hasn't had any role in our problems. All these problems are caused by the Iranians themselves. The situation in Iran couldn't be any worse, sanctions or no sanctions."


A more troubling reading of the report could be heard only on channels beamed in on satellite dishes:

Analysts in Tehran this week could not agree on just how sanctions could hurt Iranian households - or whether the international community could even find consensus among themselves to enforce them. Russia and China, which have strong economic ties to Iran, have been loathe to consider sanctions. U.S. and European officials have reportedly been angling to impose travel restrictions on Iranian officials - a low-level sanction at first - and then seek more damaging penalties such as a freeze on Iranian assets and overseas bank accounts.

Complicating any consideration of sanctions is Iran's own energy source. The country has huge oil reserves and diplomats have raised concern that Iran could retaliate by reducing exports and hampering global supplies.

But maintaining their defiance could carry serious risks for Ahmadinejad and his government. Iran could find that sanctions aggravate already-painful economic conditions in this country of 68 million.

Inflation remains in the double digits. The official jobless rate stands at 12 per cent but some economists believe it actually runs as high as 20 per cent. And oil-rich Iran, pumped with the profits of rising crude prices, suffers from a lack refinery capability. Even as it pulls in oil dollars, Iran is paying billions of dollars for gasoline imports.

'Ordinary people don't understand the shape and the depth of sanctions or how deeply they could hurt,' said analyst Saeed Laylaz. 'But companies are concerned. They know that financial transactions can become more difficult. They know trade will suffer.

'And delays in business will mean big problems here - and the situation becomes dangerous.'"

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