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Code: 265066
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Date: Saturday, February 15, 2014
Why Western business eyeing Iran is a good thing
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The latest example came late last month, following Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's trip to Davos, Switzerland. During his appearances at the World Economic Forum, Rouhani invited gathered world and corporate leaders to take advantage of the opportunities that the opening up of Iran offers. But such encouragement is only likely to provoke ire in Washington, a point underscored just days later when U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman was grilled by the Foreign Relations Committee over fears that the foreign firms lining up to do business with Iran could diminish Washington's leverage in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

It's a compelling argument on the surface. But it is also one that belies a misunderstanding of the reality on the ground – and how the situation is viewed from within Iran.

"Most of these delegations appear to be going to get themselves in line for the day when, in fact, a comprehensive agreement is reached, if it is reached," Bloomberg quoted Sherman as saying. "And we have told them all they are putting their reputations, themselves and their business enterprises at risk if they jump the gun."

But the idea that business s
hould continue to hold back for political reasons is not only unviable, but could be counterproductive. Indeed, insisting that Iran is still not open for business suggests that many policymakers in the United States are underestimating the importance of communicating properly in this conflict, especially towards an Iranian public yearning for signs that their economic lot is close to improving.International firms flocking to Iran are preparing for the moment sanctions are properly lifted. Yet rather than undermine the U.S. position, preparatory activities are actually raising expectations among business people and the broader public in Iran that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Such optimism could also help bolster Rouhani's standing vis-à-vis his hardline opponents, who have been sharply critical of a deal with the United States.Ultimately, the debate over Iran's nuclear program is about the perception of who is right or wrong, and the U.S. must make sure it stays on the right side of that debate.  True, a robust sanctions regime has contributed to getting Iran to the table. But it is hard to imagine continuing international backing for tough measures if the U.S. and its allies don't alter their approach as Iran shows signs of compromise. Indeed, the notion that the current level of pressure should be extended indefinitely (or even increased if some U.S. politicians ever get their way) is misguided. Now that at least a minimum level of trust has been established through direct talks among foreign ministers and the conclusion of an interim agreement, the rest of the world is now looking toward some kind of resolution.

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