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Iran Races The Clock To Finish Deals Before Obama Leaves Office


The Islamic Republic of Iran is in a race against the clock. As the Obama presidency draws to an end, the future of the nuclear deal - which eased sanctions and opened the country up for some business - is now uncertain. With just weeks until the U.S. administration changes hands, Iran is now scrambling to finalize deals with Western companies. Just over the weekend, Boeing completed a multibillion-dollar deal for the sale of 80 airplanes. For more, we turn now to Thomas Erdbrink. He's the Tehran correspondent for The New York Times. Thomas, thanks for being with us.

THOMAS ERDBRINK: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: As you know, Donald Trump has been highly critical of the Iran deal. So how are businesses in Iran grappling with this? Are they just preparing for him to rescind the deal altogether?

ERDBRINK: In Iran, before business, there's always the government. And the government, of course, made this extraordinary deal with the United States and other world powers in order to get sanctions lifted. And, of course, in exchange they want to see their economy improving. And the plan was for the reigning government to make lots of business deals. But now, with Trump coming in and, of course, the Republicans controlling all centers of power in the United States, the Iranians are getting very, very nervous that this will all turn out differently. So they're trying to do as many deals as possible so that the incoming administration, hopefully, cannot turn them back or undo them in any way.

MARTIN: Are you also finding that some companies are just holding off on finalizing contracts until they learn more about what's to come in the next administration? Or is it just a race to ink anything before the change?

ERDBRINK: No. The Iranians, of course, are pretty clever businessmen. They have been so for thousands of years, so they won't give anything away. But what the Rouhani administration wants to do here is to sort of fortify relations with the West and to make sure that under Donald Trump, the sanctions - as they have been in place during the Obama presidency - cannot return. Now they hope if they make such deals - for instance, with Boeing - that a business relation will sort of start to come into existence. Americans will come here to train the Iranians. They will buy these planes, and that will prevent sanctions from returning in the future.

MARTIN: Much has been made about this idea of softening the U.S. position towards Russia, once President Obama leaves, with a new Trump administration. Given that Russia is considered to be close to Iran - the government and the military there - would such a detente with Russia not extend to Iran as well?

ERDBRINK: Well, that's definitely what the Iranians were hoping for. But at the same time, the people - who Mr. Trump is speaking to be members of his cabinet - are almost exclusively all anti-Iranian. There is a lot of deep anger towards Iran for its girls policies, but also for things Iran has allegedly done in the past, such as the bombing of the United States Marine barracks in Beirut, the hostage taking of U.S. embassy personnel. This has left deep scars with people who are coming into the new Trump administration. So it does seem as if tensions will rise between Iran and the United States even though they are signing all these deals.

MARTIN: New York Times Tehran correspondent, Thomas Erdbrink. Thanks so much, Thomas.

ERDBRINK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.