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L.A.'s Iranian community expresses mixed reactions to lifting of sanctions

One Iranian American said it felt like long divorced parents getting back together. Another vehemently criticized it as a nail in a coffin, sealing a bleak future. And yet another said it was reason for cautious optimism.

In Tehrangeles, a reference to an area of West Los Angeles that is home to the largest Iranian community outside of Iran, news of the lifting of economic sanctions against that country was met Saturday with conflicting emotions.

On the one hand, many greeted the new economic opportunities and conveniences that were sure to follow for Iranians and Iranian Americans with excitement and optimism. Yet some said they remain skeptical of the current regime and worried that the lifting of sanctions would give it legitimacy, saying they were concerned about what the billions in unfrozen funds would be spent on.

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“There’s totally different reactions between the two different groups of people,” said Hossein Hedjazi, a radio talk show host and political commentator in the Iranian American community. “A lot of people are like me – we hope that this is a big breakthrough, but know it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Iranian and U.S. officials announced Saturday in Vienna that Iran had complied with the terms of last summer’s landmark deal to dismantle its nuclear program, and that the sanctions that have been crippling for the nation’s economy would be lifted. The move will give the Iranian government access to more than $50 billion in frozen assets and oil revenue, and allows some exceptions to the trade embargoes against Iran.

Dr. Sadegh Namazikhah, an Encino endodontist, said at Thursday prayers at the community center of the Iranian-American Muslim Assn. of North America, that everyone had been talking excitedly for weeks of the possibility of sanctions being lifted. On Saturday, his Facebook feed was full of enthusiastic responses, particularly from young people in Iran, he said.

“This removal of the sanctions is way past due. When you have sanctions you’re hurting the people,” said Namazikhah, founder and president of the association, who came to the U.S. as a student in the 1970s. “Look at what happened in Cuba, I’m sure Castro always had his steak and cigar.”

Namazikhah said the Iranian American community in the U.S. had long felt like the child of quarreling parents suffering as a result of the icy relations between the U.S. and Iran.

“We’re always hoping they get back together, and this is the beginning of that,” he said.

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But Roozbeh Farahanipour, who runs a Greek restaurant in the heart of the Persian corridor in Westwood, said while many of his customers seemed welcoming of the news Saturday, he was concerned they would soon be disappointed.

“The reality is, really soon they’re going to realize this puts money in the hands of a state of a sponsor of terrorism,” said Farahanipour, president of the West L.A. Chamber of Commerce. “This deal does not give any benefit to Iranian people; the only benefit comes to the regime.”

Farahanipour said he was also concerned with the sanctions no longer on the negotiating table, Iran would have no incentive to improve free speech and human rights conditions.

Soussan Arfaania, a local businesswoman, said while she was concerned about how the unfrozen funds would be spent by the government, that didn’t keep her from feeling “very positive” about how the new developments would affect relations between the two countries and Iranian Americans. She said she looked forward to the possibility of consular services and more exchanges in arts and sports between the two nations.

“It’s great news, it’s going to be easier for people who actually live in Iran,” she said.

Hedjazi, the radio host, said he understood all the reasons to be skeptical about how the lifting of sanctions may “reinvigorate” the regime to continue its oppression, but said it was undeniable that the announcement was the “biggest breakthrough” in the 37 years since the Iranian Revolution. The removal of sanctions will bring much needed jobs to Iran, and the economic development may ultimately bring about change, he said.

“Step by step, we get to the point that we can have some democracy in Iran, freedom of press, and all the things we have been hoping for years,” he said. “We have to be patient.”

victoria.kim@latimes.com

Twitter: @vicjkim

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