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Ordinary Iranians suffer financial pressure of U.S. leaving the nuclear deal

In the months since President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Iran's currency has lost almost half its value, companies have retreated their investments and a combination of scarcity and inflation has sent costs soaring. For some, the financial struggle could mean the difference between life and death. Special correspondent Reza Sayah reports from Tehran on the growing tension.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    As you heard John Bolton just say, the sanctions reimposed today by the administration are designed to accelerate a steep economic decline in Iran.

    As special correspondent Reza Sayah reports from Tehran, that's leading to anger at the United States and the Iranian regime.

  • Reza Sayah:

    Even in the best of times, playing in a street band in Tehran is a hard way to make a living, but members of Rising Star say, these days, getting by is harder than ever.

    This time last year, they each pocketed the equivalent of roughly $100 a day. This year, they're lucky to make $30 bucks a day.

  • Mohammad Fadayi (through translator):

    Before we had savings. Now, after daily expenses, not much is left. Every day is a struggle.

  • Reza Sayah:

    Things are so bad, they say, they can't replace broken instruments. And, sometimes, they skip a meal.

  • Hadi Hedayatifar (through translator):

    We can't reach our goals. We all have The things we want. We can't have them. Everything is put on hold.

  • Reza Sayah:

    The 20-something musicians are among millions of working-class Iranians in the grips of one of the country's worst economic crises ever.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

  • Reza Sayah:

    In the three months since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Iran's currency has lost almost half its value. Companies have retreated investments in Iran, fearing violating U.S. sanctions. A combination of scarcity and inflation has the cost of real estate, cars, everything from groceries to imported goods, soaring.

    The price of eggs doubled. Apple's popular iPhone X? Doubled.

  • Pejman Pour-Reza (through translator):

    This time, things are awful. I think many won't be able to withstand these conditions. Many will go bankrupt.

  • Reza Sayah:

    The struggle is life-and-death for Sanaz Allah-Bedashti. Sanaz' mother is recovering from breast cancer. Finding and actually buying her mother's lifesaving drug, she says, has become increasingly difficult.

  • Sanaz Allah-Bedashti (through translator):

    The fear of cancer is awful. I think about all the people struggling to get their medication. The same thing happened when my mother was diagnosed with cancer during the previous sanctions.

  • Reza Sayah:

    U.S. sanctions don't specifically target medicine, but pharmacists say soaring prices and U.S. warnings about banking transactions with Iran is hurting their ability to import the drugs. For some, the pressure is reaching a boiling point.

    Scattered protests have broken out throughout Iran. Last week, demonstrators marched in Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, and the Tehran suburb of Karaj. The crowds are small, numbering in the hundreds, but increasingly angry. Protesters lash out at Iran's religious clerics and what they call a corrupt system of governance that's long mismanaged and looted Iran's economy.

    Fueling turmoil in Iran appears to be the Trump administration's objective.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    The United States is undertaking a diplomatic and financial pressure campaign.

  • Reza Sayah:

    In a speech last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the pressure campaign is designed to rein in Iran's destabilizing behavior in the region. The Trump administration's other goal, he said, is to help Iranians free themselves from an oppressive regime.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    The United States hears you. The United States supports you. The United States is with you.

  • Marzieh Javadi:

    That's sheer hypocrisy.

  • Reza Sayah:

    Analyst Marzieh Javadi says Washington's real intention is regime change, even at the cost of hurting ordinary Iranians.

  • Marzieh Javadi:

    How can you be with people, how can you want to help people by imposing sanctions on the country? Who is hurting by the sanctions? We are not saying that, OK, the situation is perfect here. We are trying to make it better and improve it, but I think nobody trusts the United States.

  • Reza Sayah:

    The street band Rising Star agrees.

  • Ali Reza Jabari (through translator):

    In my opinion, they're not out to help. If they succeed in getting rid of this government, then it's only about fulfilling their own agenda.

  • Reza Sayah:

    The signing of the nuclear deal with the Obama administration produced hope and optimism in Iran, especially among political moderates.

    Today, mistrust of the Trump administration spans Iran's political spectrum. At a heated public debate in Tehran last week, pro-reformist Sadegh Zibakalam argued in favor of the rule of late Iranian monarch Reza Shah Pahlavi.

    His conservative opponent, Abbas Salimi Namin, argued against. After the debate both agreed on one thing: The U.S. should keep out of Iran.

  • Abbas Salimi Namin:

    It's clear they want to fool us, of course.

  • Reza Sayah:

    They want to fool Iran?

  • Abbas Salimi Namin:

    Those people that they have experience and they know the history, of course, they won't accept this.

  • Sadegh Zibakalam:

    The biggest mistake would be to overthrow the Islamic regime, because we would move backward, not forward. The best help that Trump and other Western leaders which can really give to Iranian people is first not to meddle in Iranian affair.

  • Reza Sayah:

    To leave Iran alone?

  • Sadegh Zibakalam:

    Yes, leave Iran alone.

  • Reza Sayah:

    Washington is unlikely to ease the pressure. That's why Iran is turning for help to European powers who co-signed the nuclear deal. Europe is devising a plan to sidestep U.S. sanctions and deliver to Iran economic benefits guaranteed in the nuclear deal, according to the U.K.'s ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire.

  • Rob Macaire:

    No magic bullet here. But in the area of protecting European companies through issues like the blocking statute, which is a piece of E.U. legislation, in increasing the mandate of the European Investment Bank, in work through export credit facilities, and work looking at special purpose financial vehicles, and, of course, also engaging with the U.S. administration, where there has been a very senior level engagement to talk about what exclusions would apply to U.S. sanctions.

  • Reza Sayah:

    In many ways, the U.K. saving the nuclear deal means taking on Washington.

  • Rob Macaire:

    I wouldn't put it in those terms. I think the United States is our oldest and closest ally, and there are a lot of things that we continue to agree with the U.S. on when it comes to Iran policy.

    Obviously, we have one major disagreement at that moment, which is over the JCPOA, the nuclear deal, an agreement which the U.K. has been absolutely clear that we are signed up to and committed to.

  • Reza Sayah:

    Even if Europe helps, many analysts say Iran's economy will continue to suffer under U.S. sanctions.

    Many here say the key to resolving the crisis with the U.S. is not escalating tensions with the U.S., but instead to enact long overdue domestic reform to address decades-long mismanagement of the economy by Iran's leadership.

  • Marzieh Javadi:

    Our people are demanding is, like, fighting corruption, making economy improve. That's what people want.

  • Reza Sayah:

    Until then, it's harder days ahead for members of rising Star and millions of Iranians stuck in a spiraling economy.

    As the street band finished with Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us," many here are wondering if and when someone will.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Reza Sayah in Tehran.

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