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World

Lifting Sanctions Would Be Watershed Moment For Iranian Businessman

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. There is no deal yet, but the framework announced last week to rein in Iran's nuclear program is the closest thing to a deal the international community has come up with an almost two years of diplomatic wrangling. If the current proposal is agreed upon, Iran will cut its existing centrifuges by two thirds, reduce its current nuclear fuel stockpile and the country will promise not to build new enrichment facilities for 15 years. In exchange, the U.S. and allies will list some of the sanctions that have constricted Iran's economy for decades. Rouzbeh Pirouz is an Iranian investment fund manager who also helped found the Iranian Business School. He watched the negotiations closely and had been anticipating a deal for months.

ROUZBEH PIROUZ: We've been waiting for the news for such a long time. I was actually on a flight when it was actually announced. But as soon as my plane landed in Spain, I turned on my phone, and it rang almost immediately. And my wife was on the line telling me that a deal had been announced.

MARTIN: What impact have the international sanctions had on your life in business? Have you felt the effects of the sanctions over the past few years?

PIROUZ: Absolutely. I mean, the sanctions have made doing business, particularly any business that has an international dimension, and as you know these days, most business does have an international dimension, extremely difficult.

MARTIN: Did you have to change anything about how you were managing your own business?

PIROUZ: Yes. I mean, we shifted from a business that really had an international orientation to one that had more of a domestic orientation simply because it was becoming too difficult to do anything from an international nature.

MARTIN: The deal is not confirmed yet. How is it being sold back home? Is this something that will be easy to get through?

PIROUZ: I think it'll be easier in Iran than in the U.S. because if the top leadership, and particularly the supreme leader, decide or are supportive of this, which they fully are given the fact that the deal has been agreed, then most of the political establishment of the country would fully fall into line. So, you know, I suspect that a decision has already been taken to go along with this.

MARTIN: How much political pressure was the new president, Rouhani, under to get to a deal?

PIROUZ: Well, President Rouhani was clearly elected on a platform that was quite explicit about trying to get the sanctions on Iran removed. We had presidential debates in Iran that were broadcast on national television. And one of the main arguments that he made in those debates was that it was all well and good to have centrifuges running, but it was very important for the economy as a whole to also be running and for people's lives to be running. So I think that if he'd failed to deliver on that, people would've been quite disappointed as a result.

MARTIN: You said previously that the sanctions forced you to focus more domestically, to turn inward. How will removing the sanctions affect your business?

PIROUZ: Well, we have had a huge amount of interest over the past year or so that these negotiations have been going on from investors all over the world who are interested in the potential of the Iranian market. But very, very few of them have actually made a formal commitment to invest in the country until the sanctions are resolved. So I think that if they are resolved and if they are formally lifted in one form or another, that will definitely unleash a huge amount of potential investment and activity from around the world. And that will have a very big effect on our business and on a lot of other businesses in Iran.

MARTIN: Do you feel like this moment is different?

PIROUZ: Oh, yes. I mean, we've never been here before. You know, Iran and the U.S. have not really spoken directly in such an open and transparent way since the revolution, let alone come to an agreement as extensive as this one. So this is clearly a watershed moment. President Rouhani's comments were very notable. He said that in his opinion, this was just the first step and that it was important for Iran to try to mend relations with countries with which it has had a fractured relationship. So I think that's an indication of his commitment to trying to transform Iran's place in the world.

MARTIN: Rouzbeh Pirouz is a businessman based in Tehran. Thanks so much for talking with us.

PIROUZ: Thank you very much indeed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.