The historic nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran won't lead to an Apple Store in Tehran or a Starbucks on every corner in Shiraz -- not anytime soon. The agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program in return for a partial lifting of U.S. sanctions is heralded as a step toward normalizing relations between two countries that have been at odds for decades. But the terms of sanctions relief will keep American companies from setting up shop in Tehran for the foreseeable future.
“What is under this nuclear deal is very limited,” said Tyler Cullis, a legal fellow at the National Iranian American Council in Washington. “Now that European banks will be able to hook up with Iranian banks you might see more Apple products in Iran, but Apple won’t be able to set up outlets there under this deal.”
Even U.S. aerospace giant Boeing, which would be allowed under certain conditions to compete with European rival Airbus in Iran’s civil aviation market, is holding back on any official comment until it gets more guidance from Washington, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Under the 159-page plan, most U.S. companies and their foreign-based subsidiaries would still be prohibited from investing in Iran under nonnuclear-related sanctions without acquiring special permission from the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The agreement opens the way for a small set of trade exchanges between the U.S. and Iran, including some U.S. technology products for Iran and Persian rugs for the U.S. market. The facilitation of payments via European banks in support of authorized activities will also be made easier for Iranians to purchase some goods and services online.
But for the most part U.S. companies’ investments in Iran would continue to be limited.
“Americans are sanctioning themselves,” said Hooshang Amirahmadi, president of the American Iranian Council, a Princeton, New Jersey, bipartisan group that promotes better relations between the U.S. and Iran. “This is a good start, but we must immediately improve with the broader relationship between the U.S. and Iran, otherwise it will impact this deal and perhaps create more problems.”
The deal gives non-U.S. companies a competitive edge to swoop into Iran ahead of American firms, Amirahmadi said. South Korean tech company Samsung, for example, dominates an Iranian smartphone market that Apple would surely like a bite of.
While oil and gas takes the spotlight, the country hasn’t invested enough in industries such as agriculture, natural resources management and environmental cleanup. But even if lawmakers finalize a deal in the U.S. and Iran, companies will wait to see if the agreement sticks before opening, say, an automotive factory or starting a hydroelectric project.
Meanwhile, Beijing, unencumbered by concerns over Iran's nuclear program, human rights record, and support for Shiite militias, has been fostering deeper economic ties with Tehran, building bridges, railroads and highways across the country in recent years.
“Iran has made very little investments in infrastructure over the decades,” Amirahmadi said. “Agriculture, the food industry, energy, construction, even automobiles, they’re all open to foreign investment. There’s tremendous business to be made there.”