The economic problems, combined with dozens of corruption cases that have exposed high-level greed, have made it difficult for Iran’s leaders to convince people that talking to the United States is a bad option, something supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei highlighted in a speech two weeks ago.
“Of course Trump is manipulating our people by calling for talks,” said Nader Karimi Joni, a journalist and activist critical of Iran’s government. “He knows our leaders will decline. For ordinary people in Iran, it doesn’t matter whether Trump can be trusted, is crazy or even is serious about really negotiating. They just hear Trump wants to talk and our leaders don’t.”
Iran’s leadership has been trying to show the appearance of unity, and has taken on a defensive posture. Faced with the unpredictable Mr. Trump, both President Rouhani and several commanders warned that they could close the Strait of Hormuz, a key passageway for global oil traffic, whenever they like.
But not everybody believes that would accomplish much.
“Let’s face it,” said Reza Asghari, a 50-year old businessman. “We can’t really close off the Strait without inviting U.S. military action. In fact, we can’t even make preconditions for direct talks. Who are we to do that? We need jobs, not more tension.”
Rumors are swirling across Tehran that secret talks with the United States have already begun. On Friday the foreign minister of Oman, the Persian Gulf sultanate that hosted the secret meetings between Iranian and American officials that led to the nuclear talks, may visit Tehran. The minister, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, was in Washington last week.
Some Iranians have expressed hope that Russia, which supports the nuclear agreement and has sought to strengthen strategic ties with Iran, will help cushion the effect of reimposed American sanctions.
Still, Russia-Iran relations have their own tense history. The countries are rivals in oil production. Many Iranians mistrust Russia over what they view as its past failures to honor agreements on arms sales and energy.
“We are betting on the Russians for support, but they have betrayed us many times,” said Kheba Majidi, a 35-year old master’s student of Islamic theology, who was walking home from the green grounds of Tehran University. “Our officials should be wise before it’s too late and start negotiations publicly. Why not try the Americans?”
Orignially published in NYT.