Sunday marks a deadline for President Trump to certify whether the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran is in the interest of the U.S. and whether Iran is complying. PBS NewsHour special correspondent Reza Sayah gets the Iranian perspective from Tehran.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A new deadline looms this weekend for President Trump to certify whether the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran is in the interests of the United States, and if Iran is or is not complying with it.
But how do Iranians see this deal and President Trump’s tough words for the Islamic republic?
From Tehran, and in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, special correspondent Reza Sayah reports.
REZA SAYAH: Ashura in Tehran, one of the holiest days in Shia Islam. Thousands mourn the death of Imam Hussain, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, a seventh century figure who stood against injustice and oppression.
Many here say it’s time to stand against what they see as the injustice of President Donald Trump.
ABBAS NAZARI (through interpreter): He’s insane. He’s an insane person. We have to stand up to him.
REZA SAYAH: But Iranians are not just religious conservatives. Millions of young liberals live here too, many shaped by American culture. They too have an opinion on President Trump.
MAN (through interpreter): Trump just forces his way on everyone.
MAN (through interpreter): He’s a crazy person.
MAN (through interpreter): Now we’re going to get ourselves assassinated tomorrow.
REZA SAYAH: Liberal and conservative Iranians alike don’t care much for President Trump these days, because he says he wants to scrap the nuclear deal. The agreement, signed in 2015 under then-President Barack Obama, was a rare occasion where diplomacy appeared to resolve a crisis in a region plagued by war.
The U.S. and world powers agreed to lift economic sanctions against Iran. In return, Iran rolled back its nuclear program, deemed a threat by the West.
Like many Iranians, artist Mariam Mikhatami hoped the deal would help Iran’s struggling economy and improve relations with the U.S. Now she’s worried again.
MARIAM MIRKHATEMI, Artist (through interpreter): Of course, everyone gets worried. It feels like something big is about to happen again. Things could get worse. We have to be ready for it.
REZA SAYAH: The Iran nuclear deal has been in effect for nearly two years. During that time , the IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, has reported eight times that Iran is abiding by the terms. The world powers say the deal is working.
Even President Trump’s defense secretary says the U.S. should stick with the agreement. But President Trump has repeatedly said the agreement is no good.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States.
REZA SAYAH: Trump says the agreement doesn’t address what Washington calls Iran’s destabilizing actions in the Middle East.
SAEED LAYLAZ, Political Analyst: This is exactly our criticism from the United States.
REZA SAYAH: Iran political analyst Saeed Laylaz says Iran’s conduct is purely reaction to U.S. policy that has long sought to isolate and weaken Iran.
SAEED LAYLAZ: Our behavior in the region is exactly in accordance to the United States’ behavior.
If the United States doesn’t want to destabilize the country, my country, if they don’t want to collapse the regime, they don’t want to disturb us, you will see that the behavior of Tehran will be absolutely something else.
REZA SAYAH: Aftabnet magazine covers social and cultural issues in Iran. And veteran journalist Amir Hossein Rasael says Washington has always vilified Iran. President Trump is no different.
AMIR HOSSEIN RASAEL, Journalist (through interpreter): I don’t know how Americans can believe Trump. Has there ever been an Iranian who fired a shot in America to be called a terrorist? Has there ever been an Iranian anywhere in the world who beheaded anyone?
It was Saudis who destroyed the Twin Towers. I have never been to America, but I have met a lot of Americans who visit. All of them see within a week that this image of Iran created by American media is not real.
REZA SAYAH: The current deal doesn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program, another reason President Trump doesn’t like it. The world powers’ objective was to resolve Iran’s nuclear issue with this agreement. Trump says the deal should have demanded restrictions on Iranian missiles that threaten U.S. interests.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, says Iran is entitled to a missile program as a means to protect itself, after the world failed to stop Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from bombing Iran with chemical weapons.
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iran: Our people were being bombed by missiles. We didn’t have a single missile to defend ourselves. We didn’t have a single missile to use as a deterrent. Aren’t we obliged to our citizens to defend?
REZA SAYAH: Today, Tehran’s Peace Museum is a reminder of Iraq’s toxic bombs and Washington’s support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988, killing more than one million people on both sides.
Inside one of the display cases sits a picture of the Iraqi dictator shaking hands with Donald Rumsfeld, then an adviser to President Ronald Reagan.
In recent days, there have been some reports that Iran is willing to discuss its ballistic missile program to ease U.S. concerns. But many here say making additional concessions won’t make a difference, because what Washington is really after is regime change.
Many Iranians view this as an ultimate motive of U.S. policy that’s been in place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
AMIR HOSSEIN RASAEL (through interpreter): This Is the reality. They’re after regime change. Does anyone think otherwise?
ZEINAB GHASEMI, Professor of American Studies: I think, yes, of course, this is on their agenda.
REZA SAYAH: Zeinab Ghasemi is professor of American studies at Tehran University. Ghasemi says the 70 turnout in Iran’s presidential elections, reelecting moderate Hassan Rouhani, a champion of the deal, illustrates a lack of popular support for regime change.
ZEINAB GHASEMI: And then you don’t have this inside, internal support, then you have to bring other, you know, things into it, like putting sanctions on the country and making it weaker and weaker.
REZA SAYAH: Despite the nuclear agreement, the U.S. imposed new sanctions against Iran unrelated to its nuclear program.
Analysts here say those sanctions continue to deter foreign investment and cripple key sectors of the economy. Apple and Google cited U.S. sanctions when they banned Iranian apps and services for Iranian users. It was a huge blow to a high-tech industry that was depending heavily on the benefits of the nuclear agreement.
AMIR HOSSEIN RASAEL (through interpreter): Of course this is discouraging for a young generation that was eager to start working in the tech industry. I think they were 100 percent dependent on the nuclear deal. And now they have lost that hope.
REZA SAYAH: Iranian leaders say, if President Trump decertifies the deal and the U.S. reimposes nuclear sanctions, they may revive their nuclear program. Many Iranians expect tough times ahead, but hold out hope that the international community will help keep the agreement intact.
MAN (through interpreter): When you have something called the U.N., and they’re doing their job, then they have to defend the deal. If they don’t, then there’s nothing we can do.
REZA SAYAH: Many here say, regardless of the outcome, President Trump’s handling of the nuclear deal proves what Iran’s hard-liners have said all along, that Washington can never be trusted.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Reza Sayah in Tehran.