LI's Iranian-Americans view U.S.-Iran talk with caution

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a meeting

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a meeting on nuclear disarmament during the 68th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters. (Sept. 26, 2013) (Credit: AP)

The surprise phone conversation between the presidents of the United States and Iran has stirred both hope and skepticism in Long Island's Iranian-American community that 34 years of hostility might be nearing an end.

"This is something we have been waiting for for many years," Reza Hedayati said Saturday. The president of the Iranian American Society of New York, a nonpolitical group, Hedayati said he was expressing a personal view.

Hedayati, of Hewlett, who came to the United States in 1973 for advanced medical training, said he had spoken with relatives in Iran, who believe the country now could slowly change. "It doesn't happen overnight," he said. "Nobody wants what happened in Egypt or Iraq," referring to bloody civil strife in those countries.

Developer Hooshang Nematzadeh of Great Neck, who left Iran in 1978 -- a year before the revolution that put Islamic fundamentalists in power -- said the Iranian people genuinely want improved relations.

However, he cautioned: "Whether this government is sincere, and whether this government has the authority, I doubt, on both counts."

Some Iranian-Americans -- though optimistic -- said the United States should wait for tangible signs, such as an end to restrictions on free speech and the resolution of the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

"It's easy to get excited, and we are all excited about it, but the enmity towards the United States is one of the ideological pillars of the Islamic revolution," said Shahram Yaghoubzadeh, of Long Island.

An information technology consultant, Yaghoubzadeh is president of the Great Neck-based Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York, an educational and charitable nonprofit.

He said President Barack Obama should "take it step-by-step, and let's see a positive step from them before we take a positive step." Now 58, Yaghoubzadeh came to the United States when he was 17 to finish his education.

Nazee Moinian, now 50, was 15 when she left Iran. She is married to a developer whose family belongs to synagogues in Great Neck.

An international affairs scholar, she previously worked for the Council on Foreign Relations, and said she met Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, who spoke to that group, on Thursday.

"I believe he has the mandate of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but to what extent, that's the big question," she said.

Steven Dann, a Manhattan resident who owns luxury boutiques in Great Neck and elsewhere on Long Island, dismissed the Obama-Rouhani conversation Friday as a cynical image-improving campaign by Islamic leaders whose hard-line stance is unchanged.

"It's more like a rebranding than anything else," added the U.S.-born Dann, whose family immigrated to the United States before the revolution.

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