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Iran Wants Sanctions Relief Amid New Nuclear Talks

By Jeff Seldin, VOA

World powers and Iran are gearing up for a new round of talks in Geneva later this month about Tehran's nuclear program. The United States and its allies want Iran to take concrete steps to show it is not and will not pursue nuclear weapons. But Iran wants crippling international sanctions eased.

Story: Sanctions: Silent War - Iranian Artist's 'Pill Protest' Highlights Harmful Side Effects Of Sanctions

It's been hammered time and time again by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whether on his official Twitter feed or during his speech at the United Nations. Iran's new president said it's time for economic sanctions to end. "These sanctions are violent, pure and simple," he said.

For the Iranian people, the international sanctions have been devastating.

Iran's currency, the rial, has nose-dived since 2011, losing more than 80 percent of its value compared to the U.S. dollar.

The price of consumer goods has spiked, up about 40 percent. Oil exports have dried up - costing Iran an estimated $100 million a day. And unemployment is rising, some estimates putting the jobless rate for young people at close to 30 percent.

It's all putting pressure on Rouhani to make a deal, said Iran analyst Michael Singh of the Washington Institute.

“Iran desperately needs sanctions relief. It’s not going to get better for Iran in a year, for example. What Rouhani intends to do will be even more necessary in a year than it is today,” he said.

But getting relief will not be easy - a point driven home by U.S. lawmakers at a recent hearing on Iran.

"While we welcome Iran's diplomatic overtures, they cannot be used to buy time," said Senator Robert Menenzez of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

But President Rouhani has repeatedly insisted that Iran retains the right to enrich uranium.

David Albright, at the Institute for Science and International Security, said that didn't sit well with the U.S. and other major powers.

“From the Iranian point of view, they may be going through a sticker shock right now. Those sanctions aren’t coming off anytime soon,” he said.

Which means President Rouhani's biggest challenge may be dealing with everyday Iranians who are feeling increasingly squeezed.

“He [Rouhani] is going to have to decide if he’s going to render himself increasing unpopular with his own people by continuing a nuclear weapons program that has led to great suffering for Iran,” said Michael O'Hanlon at the Brookings Institution.

All of this leaving Iranians desperate for change stuck in a continuing cycle of economic hardship as the Iranian hierarchy decides how to play its next move.

Jeff Seldin works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters covering a wide variety of subjects, from the nature of the growing terror threat in Northern Africa to China’s crackdown on Tibet and the struggle over immigration reform in the United States. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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