August 5, 2015 | Quote

The New Middle East

Mobile phones in Tehran started beeping and buzzing well before Iran’s nuclear agreement with the West was finalised on 14 July in Vienna. They carried an important sentiment that couldn’t wait for the niggling details to be ironed out in the talks between Iran, on one side, and China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the US on the other. “Congratulations, the agreement is almost signed! Come dine with us for less,” read the text from a local pizzeria. Discounts and specials celebrating the coming end of the sanctions pinged around the capital.

In the offices of Takhfifan, Iran’s answer to Groupon, staffers interrupted their weekly meeting every 10 minutes to refresh the news on their laptops. “We’re all counting the seconds,” said Nazanin Daneshvar, the site’s founder, hoping “that we’ll get back to a better place after such a long, difficult time.” Daneshvar’s marketing platform is thriving: It boasts a million subscribers who grab daily deals on everything from concert tickets to swimming pool passes. An Iran reopened for global business could eventually bring in Western companies and investors, which might finally mean economic growth of a different scale. A normal scale. 

But there are significant exceptions to Iran’s reopening. Banks, airlines, construction companies and other entities and individuals that have been sanctioned for supporting terrorism or human rights abuses will remain on blacklists. Also, US citizens and companies will still be prohibited from doing business with Iran in all but a few cases including civilian aircraft, food and carpets under the longstanding US embargo on trade with the country. However, foreign subsidiaries of American firms will be allowed to trade and invest.

“Foreign businesses will be slower to return than Iran expects because of compliance, reputational and counterparty risks,” says Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, who helped devise US sanctions. “No company wants to wake up to a front-page story that its business partner is Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or that the new US president has re-imposed tough sanctions,” Dubowitz says. 

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