Many Iranian expats in California have doubts about nuclear deal

The prevailing sentiment in part reflects the history of the Southern California’s Iranian community

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Many members of the Los Angeles-area Iranian community, the largest in the United States, are skeptical about a preliminary nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington, even though a pact could end decades of international isolation for their homeland.

The prevailing sentiment in part reflects the history of the Southern California’s Iranian community, made up of those in the earliest wave of migration after Iran’s 1979 revolution. Many are still distrustful of the Iranian government.

A rollback of U.S. sanctions, which have contributed to Iran’s skyrocketing inflation and inability to obtain Western medical supplies, will do little to improve the lives of ordinary people, many expatriates say. Instead, they see the government as the only beneficiary of any economic boost that might follow the lifting of sanctions, a reward for what they say is the Iranian leadership’s decades of bad behavior.

“They don’t use money for their own people,” said Rafi Mehrian, owner of a housewares store in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Los Angeles that displays Iranian and Israeli flags. He fled Iran on camel more than 25 years ago and never returned.

Similar to the anti-Castro Cuban community in Florida, many Iranian expatriates advocate for the overthrow of their home-country’s government, said Reza Aslan, a religious studies scholar at the University of California, Riverside.

“The anger, the hatred, that many older Iranians have toward the regime  tends to overshadow the hope for their country getting back to a full, prosperous life,” he said.

While Iranians living abroad keep a close watch on news reports of their native country, understanding the conditions that families are facing back home can be difficult, said Aslan.

Iranians from religious minority groups - such as Jews, Christians and Baha’is - have largely been unable to visit for the past three decades, further distancing them from home.

The Iranian Jewish community in particular has developed allegiance toward Israel. The majority of Iranian Jews in Los Angeles oppose the proposed deal, which has been criticized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A sense of anger that U.S. President Barack Obama has turned his back on Israel is shared among Iranians who emigrated as adults as well as those who left as babies.

“I am deeply concerned and disappointed,” said Sam Yebri, who founded a local organization to draw young Iranian-Americans into political activism.

Despite widespread concern among Iranians, analysts have emphasized that the expatriate community represents a diversity of opinions. And some in Los Angeles expressed optimism that the new deal, if successful, would bolster human rights and freedom for Iranian citizens.

“I think this is a wonderful thing,” said Saba Soomekh, a visiting professor of religious studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, who left Iran when she was 2 years old. “Who knows where the Iranian government will be in 15 or 20 years?”

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