Hope but also frustration for Iranians after sanctions lifted
“The sanctions have ruined my business. In six months I will close down if it goes on like this. We need to see some tangible results,” he said by telephone from the northern city of Rasht.
Iranians are delighted the United States, United Nations and European Union agreed to lift nuclear-related sanctions on Jan. 16 in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.
But many are frustrated not to have seen immediate changes now Iran’s isolation is over and fear the benefits will not be felt for a long time as foreign banks, companies and governments tread carefully for fear of violating residual U.S. sanctions.
“I hope by lifting the sanctions, I will be able to use banks like other civilized countries. My only hope is to be part of the global business community,” said a businessman in the city of Tabriz who gave his name only as Heshmat.
“But still we have a long way to go. I am afraid that if the current situation continues until March, I will have to close my business,” said Heshmat, whose account in a French banks was blocked in early 2013.
The Western sanctions cut off finance from abroad, pushed up the cost of borrowing in Iran and hit many businesses by banning foreign bank transfers. Heshmat got used to bringing in money in thick wads of $100 bills on flights from Turkey and elsewhere.
CASH IN A HANDBAG
Western banks quit Iran after the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on its financial and oil sectors in 2012, making it almost impossible for many middle-class Iranians to transfer money to their children studying abroad.
Many Iranians were unable to open or hold accounts abroad and dual-national Iranians outside their homeland faced problems maintaining their accounts even if they have never transferred money to or from Iran.
Maryam Sadeghian, a middle-class Iranian, said she had felt she would be “reconnected to the outside world” when the nuclear-related sanctions were lifted.
“But my happiness did not last long. I contacted my bank in Munich, where I used to have an account for over a decade to open a new account,” she said. “But the answer was negative. I was told that there was no change of policy.”
For Mohsen Dadpeynia, a former government employee, there has also been disappointment because he cannot yet transfer money easily to his daughter in Italy.
“After my daughter moved to Italy in 2013, it was a nightmare to send her money. I had to find trustworthy black market dealers to transfer money,” he said.
Taraneh Moghaddam, an architect from the central Iranian city of Shiraz, also encountered practices under sanctions that she hopes will now end. She had to go to London in a hurry to retrieve $300,000 in cash in 2013 when her bank called to warn her it would close her account in a week “because you live in Iran.”
“I was desperate and had to carry the cash in my handbag to Iran,” she said, adding that she was unable to open an account in any other Western bank even though she has joint Iranian-British nationality.
A LONG WAY TO GO
President Hassan Rouhani, who said during his 2013 election campaign that he would boost Iran’s economy, hopes the lifting of sanctions will facilitate Iran’s return to the global oil market and attract much-needed foreign investment.
But expectations of a quick fix are slim, with even the lure of a resource-rich and well educated country of about 80 million people opening up overshadowed by legal uncertainties for many firms and banks.
With many Western export credit agencies also having left Iran, Iranian executives still have problems opening letters of credit, which are vital for trade, with an Iranian address.
“I am happy for my country because of the deal. But it will take months, if not years, until we feel the result,” said a construction executive in the central city of Isfahan.
“The economy cannot be fixed so easily. Years of isolation cannot be ended in a blink of an eye. Those foreign investors just care about their own interests. We should not put our country on sale.”
Some Iranians, however, see hope already in the number of foreign businesses that have made scouting trips to Iran.
“Some foreign companies, seeking to open branches in Tehran, have started to look for offices as well as apartments for their foreign employees who will live in Tehran,” said real estate agent Hamid Afshar in northern Tehran. “Many Iranians prefer foreign tenants because the rent will be in foreign currency.”
Fereshteh Bahrizadeh, 25, is also prepared to put up with the wait for the benefits after the end of Iran’s isolation as he is excited about the prospect of travel abroad becoming easier for Iranians.
“We are not a hostile country any more,” he said. “We want to travel abroad freely and be respected overseas.”