Iran celebrated the 36th anniversary of Islamic Revolution on Wednesday with the traditional anti-American chants. But the country's top leaders have also raised the possibility of working out a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers.
The deal, though still uncertain at best, could transform Iran's place in the world after decades of confrontation with West.
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has often expressed skepticism and defiance about a potential deal. But he sounded a more positive note in recent days.
"I would go along with the agreement in the making," he said Sunday while speaking to the air force.
Khamenei went on to say he would support an agreement that meets Iran's interest, said NPR's Steve Inskeep, who is reporting this week from Iran's capital Tehran.
President Hassan Rouhani made similar remarks at a ceremony Wednesday in Tehran's Azadi Square that commemorated the 1979 revolution that brought Iran's Shiite clerics to power.
"The sanctions have not forced Iran to enter the talks but the impracticality of the all-out pressures on Iran and the significant advancements in Iran's peaceful nuclear program made the United States come to the negotiation table," Rouhani said. "Iran is seeking a 'win-win' outcome in the nuclear talks with world powers."
The atmosphere was celebratory and defiant at once, Inskeep told Morning Edition host Renee Montagne. As usual, Iranians chanted "Death to America" and also denounced Israel.
But Rouhani framed his comments in a way that made it seem like he was "trying to prepare his people to accept an agreement," Inskeep reported. "He is saying, we are not surrendering, that this can be a good thing."
"There's some defiant-sounding language there but it seems calculated to move people in his direction," Inskeep added.
One of the fundamental questions that remains is whether there is the political will to make a deal with the United States.
There is a sense of eagerness for change on the streets and in the business community, even from the leader of a political party associated with the supreme leader," Inskeep noted.
"The question of whether details can be worked out in accordance to the desires of Iran's military establishment, that perhaps is the biggest question left," Inskeep said.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We're going next to a nation on the threshold of historic change. Iran has been negotiating a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other countries, and that deal, though still uncertain at best, could transform Iran's place in the world after decades of confrontation with the West. Our colleague Steve Inskeep is reporting from Iran this week. He arrived just after the country's supreme leader signaled a little more openness to a final deal. And, Steve, describe to us where you are right now.
STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Well, Renee, I've just left a ceremony that marks the 36th anniversary of Iran's 1979 Revolution, the revolution that eventually brought clerics to power. And that was a good place to talk about this possible change in Iran's future because it was an event marking Iran's recent past, and the two are very closely connected.
MONTAGNE: Tell us first how Iran does in fact mark that 1979 Revolution.
INSKEEP: Well, thousands of people congregate on a square. It's called Azadi Square, Freedom Square. There's a huge, white monument in the middle. Families bring their kids. There is music. It is a celebratory atmosphere, but, of course, the mood is also supposed to be defiant. You have people chanting death to America, which is a common chant here. But you also had a speaker talking about economic sanctions. There was discussion of this nuclear deal, which is designed, if it ever works, to lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for concessions on its nuclear program. Of course, Iran's Revolution in 1979 in part was a defiance of the United States, and the question is whether that history can be overcome to make an agreement.
MONTAGNE: Well, let's get to something that's also key here. Iran's government is complicated by layers and layers and centers of power, and yet all major decisions ultimately go to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. How exactly did he signal this openness that I mentioned a moment ago?
INSKEEP: Well, at another event marking the anniversary of the revolution, he gave a speech in which he said, quote, "I would go along with the agreement in the making." That's a translation, although he went on to say he would go along to it if it meets Iran's interest. There's a lot in there for people to chew over.
But there's so much anticipation here and anxiety by some over the possibility of a nuclear deal that many people have been working very hard to spin that. He was seen in some quarters, though, as showing more openness to a deal that he has in the past.
MONTAGNE: OK. That's the supreme leader. What about the elected president, Hassan Rouhani?
INSKEEP: Well, President Rouhani spoke at the ceremony at Freedom Square, and he spoke in a very interesting way. He talked of the possibility of a win-win nuclear deal. Now, Rouhani was elected last year on a promise to improve relations with the outside world. But it was interesting the way that he spoke about it. He was insisting that economic sanctions which have been devastating on this country are not forcing Iran to make a deal. And you get a sense of a president trying to prepare his people to accept an agreement. He is saying we are not surrendering, that this can be a good thing. So there's some defiant-sounding language there but it seems calculated to move the people in his direction.
MONTAGNE: And though underlying all of this, the debate is...
INSKEEP: Well, one of the fundamental questions here is whether there is political will to make a deal with the United States, just as there are questions about the political will in the United States.
I spoke with a leader of a political party that's associated with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and he said, yes, there is 100 percent political will. You certainly do get a sense of eagerness for change when he talks to people on the street. You absolutely get a sense of eagerness for change when he talks to people of the business community. They're looking at the opportunity of ending sanctions. The question of whether the details can be worked out in accordance with the desires of Iran's military establishment, that perhaps is the biggest question left.
MONTAGNE: Steve, looking forward to your stories. Thanks very much this morning.
INSKEEP: Glad to do it, Renee.
MONTAGNE: That's our Steve Inskeep in Iran's capital, Tehran. We'll be hearing from him over the next week about a nation on the edge of change. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.