By Farin Hashemi, Tehran (source: Mianeh)
The Haft-Rang internet café, tucked away on one of the many crowded streets in the south of Tehran, is an afternoon hang-out spot for young locals who cannot afford their own computer.
Behrooz is one loyal customer. He comes to Haft-Rang every afternoon after his university classes and is keen to talk about relations between Iran and the United States. As somebody born in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war, memories of the bombardment of Tehran are fresh enough for him to rally behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"Honestly, what the US has done - shooting down an Iranian passenger plane [in 1988] and helping Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran - that requires an apology," said Behrooz.
Ahmadinejad would agree with that.
"Those who are seeking real change in the United States must apologise to Iranians," the president said in a recent speech in the west of Iran.
Nevertheless, Behrooz and other young Iranians believe warmer ties with a Bush-free America would be to their advantage. But it is hard for them to overlook US support for Iraq in the 1980s when many streets across the country are named after those killed in war.
"If the new secretary of state (Hillary Clinton) can bring herself to apologise to Iranians for the suffering US policy has caused, then it would be easier for Iran to accept the US hand of friendship," Behrooz said.
More than a month has passed since Barack Obama took up residence in the White House, yet there has been no word from the president about his promise to hold talks with Iran. Officials at the State Department's Iran Desk are keeping their lips sealed - they are not even prepared to talk about the options they have under review.
Politicians in the US might be able to wait patiently until Obama reveals his new policy, but on the streets of Tehran people are eager to discover where Iran-US relations are headed.
Young Iranians - of which there are many; 70 per cent of the population is under 30 - are worried about whether they will be able to find work at a time of economic crisis and also about the restrictions the Islamic Republic places on culture and entertainment.
Leaving Iran is one solution. In recent years, Dubai has become the most desirable destination for young Iranians who want to have fun. According to one official estimate, 1.5 million Iranians travel to Dubai every year. For those with less money, Baku, Istanbul or even Yerevan are safe places to relax in ways that would be punishable by jail or flogging in Iran.
Mohammad, another young Iranian, believes that warmer Iran-US ties might encourage tolerance at home, as well as making it easier for people like him to travel to the west. Iranian men cannot go abroad until they have done their compulsory military service, so it is with great excitement that Mohammad shows me his official ID card that says he has served his time with the army.
Mohammad now only needs a visa stamp in his passport to go to the US, but it would be much easier if relations between the two countries were to improve.
US and European sanctions have damaged Iran's economy. So, in the eyes of many Iranians, if the US wants to demonstrate good will and usher in the changes Obama has talked about, it must end the sanctions.
For example, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council, has said there are only minor, superficial differences between Obama and Bush's attitudes to Iran.
"To prove his good will, the US should lift the sanctions and remove the restrictions that have been imposed against Iran," Rafsanjani said in an interview with Al-Manar TV last month.
This is not only the official point of view. It is also the dream of many Iranians who have suffered from 30 years of tension between the two countries.
Most recently, Iran has found it hard to import petrol from abroad, which has led to fuel being rationed at home. At first Iranians reacted angrily, setting petrol pumps on fire, but in the end they resigned themselves to this hardship as they have done to many others in the past.
Morteza, who owns a small fruit juice stand close to the Haft-Rang café in central Tehran, would welcome any improvement in Iran's economic situation that might follow talks with the US. But he has other concerns.
"Politicians care about their own agenda. Bush and Obama are both American presidents; they think about the American people. I don't think they are concerned about our life or plan to ease the pressure on us. If they were thinking about us, they wouldn't have imposed sanctions in the first place. I just don't know why Iranian politicians don't think about their people," he said.
Alireza, the owner of Haft-Rang, has hung a framed copy of his university degree certificate on the wall, showing he majored in computer science. Better US relations would not change anything for him.
"Ten years ago I spent a great deal of hard-earned money and went to a great deal of trouble and finally managed to get accepted by California Polytechnic University. I spent almost all I had, but the US government refused me a visa, like many others, just because they didn't have good relations with Iran. Now I earn a living from this internet café," he said.
Obama know that initiating talks between the two countries will be hard after decades of mistrust. This same mistrust makes people in Iran doubt whether the new president's promises will ever bear fruit.
Behrooz, however, sounds at least one note of optimism, "Until very recently, Iranians were worried about being attacked by the US from bases in Iraq or other neighboring countries. Now, even if Mr. Obama can't deliver on his promise of change, at least he has put an end to worries about another war."
Farin Hashemi is the pseudonym of a journalist in Tehran.
This article is an abridged and translated version of the full original text published on the Farsi pages of Mianeh, with editorial adjustments agreed with the writer made to provide clarity for English-language readers.
About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (iwpr.net) the award-winning non-profit media development organisation that works across the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic society that is Iran today.
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