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Iran Economic Sanctions Lifted: What Critics Are Saying


Iran has officially rejoined the global economy. With a declaration late Saturday, Iran reached implementation day, when the nuclear deal was finally completed. It means a raft of punishing economic sanctions are being lifted. The joy in Tehran is matched by the concern being felt by some of Iran's neighbors and critics of the nuclear deal in the U.S. To explain what this means for Iran and the region, NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Istanbul. Peter, thanks for being with us.


MARTIN: Peter, you have been covering the complicated negotiations around Iran's nuclear program for years. This is a significant moment - how significant?

KENYON: Well, you know, I don't think people really recognized it as it was being put together piece by piece over time. But while this is a landmark nuclear deal, it was also an unprecedented sanctions regime. When you think about it, it's amazing that the U.S., Europe, Russia and China, with all their differences, would come together and stay together for years on a sanctions regime like this. A little bit of it now is coming off. But it's some really important pieces, and the changes are going to be dramatic. President Rouhani was just speaking. And he called it a turning point for the country and its relations with the rest of the world.

MARTIN: OK, boil it down for us. What are the most important changes that will take place?

KENYON: Well, politically for Iran, they've craved the end of U.N. Security Council sanctions for many years. I mean, that's the world sanctioning Iran, not just its enemies. But economically, it's the banking sanctions. A lot of transactions blocked, and all sectors of the economy will now be flowing again. Doing business will be so much easier. Tens of billions of dollars or more in unfrozen assets will be a big short-term - will be a big short-term help as well. The Iranian oil tankers are now heading towards Europe and Asian markets again. The price, of course, is so low; it's not clear how much of a help that will be. But there are so many sectors, economically, where investment is needed, especially in oil and gas. And I guess we should say, it's also a good thing for lovers of caviar and saffron and pistachios.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Indeed. So what about American sanctions, though? Because there were some discrete U.S. actions against Iran.

KENYON: That's right. It's a little trickier though. I mean, these are called secondary sanctions. They apply to foreign companies who want to do business both with the U.S. and Iran. They will now be able to do that without losing access to their U.S. markets. But the primary sanctions against U.S. companies those are still in place. Now, there may be some in-between areas if you have a foreign subsidiary, and the U.S. Treasury Department has let in - has issued a raft of guidelines about that. So the lawyers will be busy studying those.

MARTIN: Here in the U.S., this is being seen by some in the foreign policy community as a big win for President Obama. But there's been a whole lot of criticism from many on the right, especially Republican presidential candidates who say, you know, this is going to unlock billions of dollars of frozen assets that will just embolden Iran in a very unstable region. How is it being played out in Iran? How is the government there framing this?

KENYON: Well, it's a good question. It is a big win, and yet. I mean, Iranian politics are so factional and so complex, hard to read. Hardliners have been very active lately. And one reason, we should say, that President Rouhani's government has been racing to get to this point - beating U.S. estimates by months - is that elections are coming up next month. And both Parliament and also a group of experts are going to have a hand in picking the next supreme leader. So in theory, this lifting sanctions now should be a big boost for Rouhani and moderates who helped elect him. But I asked analyst Ali Vaez at the International Crisis Group about that. And he says it's actually a little too late. He probably won't get a big boost. So we're just going to have to see what the impact is there.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thanks so much, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.