By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
The much anticipated trip to New York by Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, has generated hope and high expectations among many Iranians.
Many citizens, whose lives have becoming increasingly difficult because of the crippling economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies over Iran's controversial nuclear program, are hoping that the trip might mark the beginning of a decrease in tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The two countries, who broke ties following the 1979 revolution and the hostage-taking of U.S. diplomats in Tehran, have been at loggerheads in recent years over Iran's nuclear activities, which Washington believes include a military dimension. Iran denies the accusations.
For many in Iran, a positive sign would be a meeting or even a handshake between Rohani and U.S. President Barack Obama. While no official meeting has been scheduled between the two leaders, neither the White House nor Rohani has rejected the possibility that an encounter could take place.
A journalist in Iran, who spoke to RFE/RL and asked not to be named, summed up how many people are feeling when he said, "At the least, a handshake between Obama and Rohani would suggest that there is a strong will on both sides to bring Iran out of the current economic and diplomatic quagmire."
A 43-year-old Iranian engineer in Tehran said she knows that the wall of mistrust between the two countries won’t come down overnight, but she is hoping that Rohani's trip to New York will help break the ice.
"I'm very hopeful, this is actually the first time in recent years that I feel hopeful and believe that good things can happen," she said. "We're tired of sanctions and isolation. We're hoping that Rohani can solve the nuclear issue and improve ties with the U.S. His trip, I think, is a first step."
For years, even the mention of talks with the United States, which is often referred to as "The Great Satan," in Iran, was taboo in in the Middle Eastern country.
Now, pictures of Rohani and Obama and stories speculating about a possible meeting between the two men in New York have been published in Iranian newspapers. The reformist media has carried analysis and opinion pieces that signal hope and a sense of guarded optimism among Iranian observers.
In its September 23 edition, the moderate "Etemad" daily asked 50 analysts, politicians, and intellectuals whether they thought a meeting between the two presidents was possible.
"Rohani-Obama: One meeting, fifty views" read the paper’s front page headline.
Before leaving for New York, Rohani vowed to use his trip to present the "true face of Iran."
His official website said Rohani had told journalists, "On this trip, I will try to deliver the voice of the oppressed people of Iran to the world, and we should say that sanctions are an illegal and unacceptable path."
The cleric will be watched by many Iranians who had become accustomed to the UN speeches of Rohani's predecessor, hard-line ruler Mahmud Ahmadinejad. His confrontational comments and Holocaust denials often led to mass walkouts by delegates from Western countries.
The semiofficial ISNA news agency wrote that Iranians are now confident that their new president will not address "empty seats."
ISNA said many Iranians are hoping Rohani will be able to use what they called his "smile diplomacy" to open a new chapter in Iran's ties with the international community -- a chapter that will not include a "destructive storm" but rather a "moderate breeze."
A student in Isfahad told RFE/RL that "hope had left us. It's back again, it feels good.”
Others are more cautious.
One young Iranian said, "We also had high hopes when [former President Mohammad] Khatami took office, but he couldn't achieve much. Yet, I still hope that with Rohani things will be different."
Many Iranians have turned to Facebook to express their hope and expectations, posting messages on the Facebook page of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who is also in New York for the UN summit.
"Please bring us good news," one user wrote. Another said he and Rohani are carrying the hopes of many Iranians with them on their trip.
The sense of optimism appears to have also affected the Iranian currency, the rial, which has surged in value since Rohani's July election.
On September 23, reports said the U.S. dollar was trading for the first time in a year for less than 30,000 rials.
A journalist in Tehran told RFE/RL that many people are hoping Rohani's trip could further boost the Iranian economy.
Even speculation about a meeting between Obama and Rohani has caused the rial to rise, she said, and many people think that, if the two men actually shake hands, "it would lead to some immediate changes in the economic situation." If they actually spoke, she said, "the impact would be manifold."
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