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Iran's 'Implementation Day' Spells Opportunity For International Businesses

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

International sanctions were lifted this past weekend against Iran, but big challenges remain between the U.S. and Iran. In a moment, we'll look at the tools the U.S. government has to address those challenges with someone who helped negotiate the sanction's deal. But first, NPR's Jackie Northam reports Iran's newly opened economy is expected to tempt plenty of companies, just not American ones.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: If you're an international oil and gas company, it's hard not to look at Iran and think, cha-ching. The country has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves and the largest natural gas reserves, which are virtually undeveloped. But Alex Vantanka, an Iran specialist at the Middle East Institute, says there are many other business opportunities there.

ALEX VANTANKA: This is a country of 80 million people. This is a country that's hungry for plenty of economic services and trade with the world. It's a, by and large, young country, highly educated country. Plenty of Iranians still have plenty of money in their pockets to spend

NORTHAM: But Vantanka says after years of sanctions, Iran desperately needs capital, expertise and access to markets. But the country is still riddled with corruption. Revolutionary Guards control much of the economy, and the sanctions could snap back into place if Iran renegs on its nuclear commitments. Vantanka says many European and Asian companies and entrepreneurs are willing to take that risk. For U.S. companies, though, it's a different story.

CLIFF KUPCHAN: The American business community has been quiet. They're a dog that's not barking.

NORTHAM: Cliff Kupchan is chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. He says U.S. companies are not racing to get into Iran largely out of caution. The U.S. is keeping in place secondary sanctions relating to Iran's support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program. Kupchan says many American corporations have been fined in the past for violating sanctions. That, along with the inherent risk in Iran, means companies are are willing to wait and see how things shake out there.

KUPCHAN: I've heard very, very little, surprisingly little, astounding little unhappiness about not being able to explore the Iranian option. So I think there's a real business political culture aversion to tackling Iran too quickly.

NORTHAM: The one U.S. sector guaranteed it can do business with Iran is commercial airline manufacturers, Such as Boeing. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.