It will be years before Iran's economy feels the benefit of the nuclear dealby Christopher de Bellaigue / September 17, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
For the members of foreign trade delegations currently on prospecting missions to Iran, drowsy after a rich Iranian lunch and a bellyful of facts about the world’s last big unexploited economy, I recommend a refreshing ride on the Tehran metro. The network is far from extensive, and everyone complains about the Chinese engineering (no, the Iranians don’t like the pervasive influence of Cathay more than anyone else), but the air-conditioning works, classical airs trill pleasantly in the stations, and the division of trains into male and female carriages is regarded as a useful segregation—by the women at least. Down in the loam, furthermore, no one seems crotchety or argumentative as they do above ground.
When the trains come, which isn’t very often by western standards, the carriages are full, not just with passengers but also hawkers—dozens of them picking their way among the passengers, droning the virtues of toothbrushes, screwdrivers, mobile phone chargers and deodorants. In general these sellers are treated with indifference by their intended customers, who do not seem to be in a hurry to get to their destinations, but are absorbed in gaming or whatever is playing on their Samsung smartphones. To ride the Tehran metro is to observe precisely the amalgam of apathy and potential that has determined Iranian government policy over the past couple of years, and which will bear down on the country’s future.
For all the Iranian ministerial pronouncements that Iran is “open for business” following July’s nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers, it isn’t—not yet. It will probably be well into next year before Iran can claim to have complied with its commitments with respect to reconfiguring and downgrading key parts of its nuclear industry, which many other governments have suspected, despite Iranian denials, was designed to put it within easy reach of nuclear weapons. After that, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will need to give its seal of approval.