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Lebanon Residents Divided Over Iran Nuclear Deal

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In the Arab world, there are mixed feelings about this deal. Iran's regional allies, like the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, welcomed the news of the accord. But others aren't so sure, and the deal is the subject discussion all over. NPR's Alice Fordham reports from Lebanon.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Mohammed Abu Al Hassan is an elderly street vendor with a stall full of newspapers marking the deal. Some are jubilant. One paper has yes we can emblazoned across a photo of celebrating Iranians, the headlines written in Farsi, Iran's language, rather than regular old Arabic.

MOHAMMED ABU AL HASSAN: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: And Abu al Hassan's happy too. He says "this is a big victory for Iran. They're taking back their rights of the past 40 years. They took back their money and lifted the sanctions."

HASSAN: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: "What could be better than that?"

In a nearby cafe on this bustling street in Lebanon's capital, Beirut, several people say this deal's definitely big for the Middle East. Khalil Harb, getting some lentils and salad for lunch, is a journalist.

KHALIL HARB: In my opinion, it's going to have many implications and it's going to force many changes in the region.

FORDHAM: But there are plenty who fear an empowered Iran. I have coffee with Wissam Tarif, a longtime activist against Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. He's pessimistic.

WISSAM TARIF: This deal will not help Syria, will not help Iraq, will not help us, the people who live in this region.

FORDHAM: Iran is Assad's staunchest ally.

TARIF: Iran will start getting billions of dollars. This money will help al-Assad to sustain the war in Syria.

FORDHAM: Tarif's voice has been joined by a chorus of dismay from Assad's opponents pointing out that Iran has helped Assad as he's presided over the collapse of his country and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Andrew Tabler is a Syria analyst in Washington.

ANDREW TABLER: Simply, it is seen as somehow a vindication of Iran's position in the region.

FORDHAM: And Syria's a proxy war, with different countries supporting different sides, so Tabler fears those countries who oppose Assad - Saudi Arabia and Turkey, for example - might now send more weapons to rebels to counter Iranian strength. And you hear similar concerns in Iraq, too, where Iran backs militias accused of abuses. There are some more optimistic voices. Amr al Azm is a history professor and leading Assad opponent. He says with the deal done, Assad might participate in new Syria peace talks.

AMR AL AZM: Getting the nuclear deal out of the way essentially now opens up, you know, the space for a much more serious discussion on what can and cannot be done in Syria.

FORDHAM: And he adds, ultimately, the U.S., Iran and global powers would welcome a more stable Middle East because that's home to what they all agree is a serious threat - the self-named Islamic State. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.