An hour after news broke of the Iran nuclear deal “framework,” people started calling Mahdi Yazdizadeh.
Yazdizadeh is one of the partners in Pasargad, an Iran-based investment fund.
At the moment, international sanctions make it nearly impossible for anyone outside of Iran to invest there. Even those in other Middle Eastern countries have largely stayed away. But all that could change if the nuclear deal is approved and sanctions are removed.
Iranians are certainly optimistic. The Tehran Stock Exchange has surged nearly 8% since the deal was announced on Thursday.
Interest in doing business in Iran started long before last week. Everyone from investors to banking institutions to auditors have been analyzing the possibilities. The country has large natural resources and, equally as important, a well-educated workforce.
Investing in Iran: Yazdizadeh has been flying around the world in recent months explaining possibilities to potential investors. He’s seen the most interest from Iranians living abroad, including in the U.S., and people in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and even Saudi Arabia.
“A lot of them have already done their homework,” he said. “No check has been issued yet from foreign investors, but they have started traveling [to Iran].”
The framework calls for sanctions to be removed once the International Atomic Energy Agency “has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps,” according to an explainer from the White House.
While there has been a lot of Republican opposition to the plan, political insiders think it will be hard to defeat.
“I think this is winnable for Obama,” says Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group.
Only Congress can lift sanctions, but almost all the sanctions laws give the president some authority to waive or suspend them, according to an analysis from the Rand Corporation.
Hope in Iran: Yazdizadeh, a 34-year-old who was educated at Oxford University, spent several years working in London before returning to his homeland. Like many young Iranians, he sees these talks as a “binary situation” — either the talks fail and Iran goes into a sort of dark age, or the plan goes through and a whole new world of economic possibilities arrives.
“I have my whole life gambled on this,” Yazdizadeh said. “This is why I moved to Iran.”
It won’t be a quick process. Even if a deal is reached by June, the sanctions probably won’t come off until the end of 2015, if not later.
“Removing the sanctions will take time. But what will take much more time is creating an efficient business environment with rule of law and transparent regulations,” says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Yazdiazdeh agrees. He notes the banking system in Iran simply isn’t up to international standards yet.
Investment opportunities: There’s been a lot of emphasis on Iran’s oil assets. Even with the sanctions in place, Iran is still one of the world’s top oil producing nations.
But the investing opportunities go beyond energy. Yazdizadeh’s fund is focusing more on the hospitality, retail and service sectors.
There’s an expectation that more people will travel to Iran once sanctions lift and the government isn’t viewed as so hardline conservative. There’s also reason to believe that Iran’s middle and upper classes will also begin to spend more on travel, leisure and luxury.
Given the lack of sophistication in the country’s markets and businesses, Yazdizadeh plans to have management control of any companies his firm invests in, similar to a private equity model.
“The rewards in Iran are potentially huge, but so are the risks,” Sadjadpour says.