Steve Inskeep

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Why would Iranians visit their country's most spectacular ancient sites and come away disappointed?

We talked with 10 Iranian visitors to Persepolis, the ruins of an ancient Persian capital, and found a collective sense of unease — less with the ruins themselves than with what they imply about the world around them.

Iran has eagerly opened its doors to foreign investment now that a nuclear deal has cleared the way. So why is Iran still holding prisoner an Iranian-American businessman?

This is one of the contradictions of the moment in Iran, where economic sanctions were lifted weeks ago.

Last year, an Iranian economist named Mohammad Mehdi Behkish was extremely optimistic about prospects for a nuclear deal that would end many economic sanctions on his country.

"Personally, I would say it can't be that there would not be a deal," he told me when I met him in Tehran.

The alternative, he said, was disaster.

Behkish leads Iran's International Chamber of Commerce. When I met him again this month in his Tehran office, he sounded even more optimistic.

Saeed Laylaz has had an eventful seven years.

When I first met him at his home in early 2009, he was a businessman, writer and former government official. He recognized some of the flaws in Iran's Islamic republic, but spoke optimistically about his country's direction.

Soon afterward, he went to prison for his political views.

What does the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran, as part of a nuclear deal, mean for one Iranian?

We met a carpet weaver in the ancient city of Shiraz. She spends her days on the floor of a little room. Working swiftly by hand, she ties knots with little bits of wool — orange, green, white and two shades of red. Wool threads stretch across a steel frame like strings on a harp.

Just ahead of Valentine's Day, we visited the tomb of a poet who wrote often of love.

The 14th century Persian poet Hafez is buried in Shiraz, the city where he lived almost 700 years ago. He remains venerated in Iran, even though he wrote of romance and other topics that are not obviously embraced in the modern-day Islamic Republic.

One of his lines: "Oh Cup-bearer, set my glass afire with the light of wine!"

We've been talking with a Sunni Muslim who lives in Shiite-dominated Iran. He's a member of one of the two great sects of Islam, which are increasingly seen in conflict. His story suggests just how perilous that conflict could be.

Last month, a crowd in Tehran attacked the embassy of Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia. They were protesting Saudi Arabia's execution of a Saudi Shiite cleric who had criticized the Saudi government.

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Ebrahim Pourfaraj wants to build the biggest hotel in all of Iran.

He's already started his project in the far north Tehran, a wealthy zone where the city climbs up the slopes of the snow-capped Alborz Mountains.

You get out of the car, carefully stepping over the little mountain stream that flows in a channel beside the curb. After stepping through a construction trailer, you emerge on a steel-mesh platform looking over the edge of an enormous hole.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush provoked much reaction on social media this morning with a theory of Donald Trump's rise.

Bush says President Obama paved the way for it.

The former Florida governor made the remark in a year-ending interview with NPR News. Bush is trying to recover after Trump knocked him out of front-runner status in the drive for the party's nomination.

Britain rarely drops a bomb on Syria unless Michael Fallon approves it first.

British forces began bombing ISIS targets in Syria this month. And Fallon, a civilian who serves as secretary of state for defense, tells NPR that he insists on personally signing off before Royal Air Force Tornado warplanes strike a target.

President Obama's administration contends that refugees are not the true source of U.S. security concerns. Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, tells NPR that the real concern may be a person traveling as an ordinary tourist from Europe.

Johnson's department is tightening the visa waiver program, under which visitors from 38 countries, including much of Europe, may travel to the United States without applying for visas.

Cecile Richards is walking a fine line: She paints the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic as one of many attacks linked to "hateful rhetoric."

She doesn't specifically say that rhetoric motivated the attack Friday in Colorado Springs.

The president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America spoke with NPR on Monday morning about the attack that left three people dead: a mother of two children, an Iraq war veteran, a police officer.

Michigan's Rick Snyder was the first governor to urge a pause in admitting Syrian refugees into the United States. He triggered a national debate about refugee resettlement, and insists now that he only wants answers. The Republican has described himself as "the most pro-immigration governor in the country," but he argues the caution he wants the U.S. to show doesn't conflict with the compassion thinks should be shown to refugees.

Did Vladimir Putin just trick himself into solving Syria's war?

A leading U.S. diplomat contends the answer is yes. Russia, he says, has so badly mangled its intervention in Syria that it may have little choice but to favor settling the conflict.

The diplomat, Tony Blinken, tells me that's the only honorable way for Russia to get out.

Listen here:

Jay Inslee says he won't join the growing list of governors who say they don't want Syrian refugees within their state borders.

In an interview with NPR's Morning Edition, the governor of Washington state publicly welcomed refugees, citing the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, warning fellow governors against "fear," and insisting that background checks minimize whatever risk the refugees may pose.

Republican Sen. John McCain critiqued President Obama's strategy against ISIS today, casting doubt on claims that a political settlement may be near in Syria.

He also responded to Obama, who yesterday challenged critics of his administration's strategy. "If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan," the president said, sparking an Internet sensation.

Morning Edition played the president's remark to McCain, who has been one of the administration's leading critics. "You want to pop off?" I asked him.

Sen. Marco Rubio clarified his view on the 11 million immigrants, who are in the United States illegally. The day after a presidential debate, which exposed a continuing divide in the Republican Party on immigration, Rubio told NPR on Wednesday that he favors a path to citizenship for some, though the prospect would be very distant.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's hear what it's like to live beneath Russian jets and bombs in Syria's war. We've seen Russia's intervention in terms of geopolitics and photos at the U.N. Vladimir Putin, Syria's ally, maneuvers against President Obama.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Critics in the U.S. see Russia's incursion as a sign of American weakness. The U.S. didn't get fully involved in Syria, so the Russians did, yet there is a flipside to that story.

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