TEHRAN — The text message, received as the deadline for nuclear talks was expiring, gave Fatemeh Moghimi a thrill she had been waiting years to feel. “The deal,” it read, “was done.”
It took Ms. Moghimi, the owner of a leading trucking company, a second to absorb the news. When she did, she recalled recently in her Tehran office, she fairly screamed to herself: “We’re in business!”
As it turned out the message was a bad joke, and instead the nuclear negotiations were extended for another seven months — bad news for Iran’s battered, inflation-ridden economy. But Ms. Moghimi was unfazed. “I’m not giving up hope,” she said with a smile. “It is going to be over soon. It is as if the sun is peeking through the clouds after a terrible rainstorm.”
Ms. Moghimi’s unyielding optimism, shared by many top businesspeople here, was dented briefly last month when nuclear negotiators agreed to a second extension of the talks without even a framework for further negotiations. But it is almost an article of faith in business circles that the latest extension is only the postponement of an inevitable thaw between Iran and the rest of the world.
“The world needs this deal, we need this deal,” Ms. Moghimi said. “It will happen.”
Both moderates and conservatives have expressed concerns about the unchecked rise in expectations, among the public as well as elite business classes, that a deal will be cinched. They have been warning that the enthusiasm could turn to bitter disappointment if the negotiations, set to resume in Geneva next week, should fail, possibly touching off unrest or what some clerics call “another sedition,” a reference to the revolt that followed disputed presidential elections in 2009.
“The prospect of a better future is enough to make them forget their problems for now,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst. “Later, we will see if that state of mind will prove to be costly for us.”
The confidence is beginning to take on a life of its own, with executives in the major export industries — oil and gas, transportation and carpets — feverishly preparing for what they envision as gloriously prosperous days ahead. Meeting with foreign businesspeople at the conferences that are springing up regularly in Tehran, they are knocking out memorandums of understanding and other nonbinding agreements and even some contracts — all with caveats saying sanctions must be lifted first.
Map | Iran’s Key Nuclear Facilities
“I have signed contracts with Europeans and Arabs to design five refineries,” said Mohammad Javad Hassannejad, the chief executive officer of an oil and gas consultancy, Petrosadian. He said the contracts were potentially worth many millions of dollars for his company and would inject billions of dollars into the stagnant Iranian economy.
“Spirits are high,” he said. “There is growing confidence. After the deal we will witness an unbelievable boom.”
In coming months Tehran’s Chamber of Commerce is organizing an international conference for foreign investors, Ms. Moghimi explained between phone calls, sitting behind her desk.
“We will inform them where and how foreigners can invest, and help them to come to Iran,” she said. “All of us here are ready to start working.”
When Ms. Moghimi thinks of Iran’s future she sees a thriving nation at the heart of the crossroads between Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Her fleet of trucks will grow beyond imagination, she said, and she predicted that foreign companies will choose not the glitter of Dubai, but the future boomtown Tehran for their regional headquarters.
“We should start preparing now,” she said in her Tehran office, where framed certificates and awards line the walls. “That way we will be ready once there is an end to the sanctions.”
The wave of optimism began with the election of a moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, who promised to mend Iran’s ties with the world. Mr. Rouhani continues to encourage that thinking, saying just last week that the “nuclear issue would be brought to its destination.” His foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, promised after the most recent extension that a nuclear deal can happen “within weeks.”
The heightened expectations are not solely to be found among Iranians. The flow of foreign delegations to Iran continues at a steady pace, bringing eager businessmen who in conferences laud Iran’s unique geographical position, its stability and largely untapped market of middle-class consumers.
At one such conference recently, staring into a huge auditorium filled with proudly smiling Iranian car industry representatives, a French executive acknowledged that the potential for business with Iran was stunning indeed.
He and the others had just viewed a 3-D movie showing workers in blue overalls manning robots in the Iran Khodro factory, which churns out hundreds of thousands of cars each year.
“The sooner we can start working together, the better,” said the executive, Arnaud de David-Beauregards. He added, almost wistfully, “We hope our dear colleagues will wait for us.”
Iran’s national carmaker, partly state owned, feels like the cutest girl in the bar. The industry is being showcased by the Iranian government as a symbol of Iranian potential, a treasure to be sold off to the highest-bidding foreign partner.
Even though sanctions have cut the carmaker’s production by 40 percent compared with its peak year of 2011, when it made 1.6 million, hopes are soaring. “We are planning our future irrespective of any deadline,” said Hashem Yekehzare, the president of Iran Khodro, while making his way through a swarm of journalists.
For over a decade his company had partnered with the French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroën under a deal worth more than $2.5 billion a year, but the French were forced to pull out in 2012 because of the American-led sanctions.
They are eager to return, but Mr. Yekehzare said the company now had a bevy of suitors to choose from. “General Motors, Ford, all big American carmakers are showing interest in cooperating with us,” he said. “Our future is bright.”
The optimism about the future stands in stark contrast to the grim reality of Iran’s deepening economic plight. A 40 percent drop in oil prices is forcing the government to start making cuts in popular subsidies and other government programs.
On Tuesday, for example, the price of bread, one of the country’s most important subsidized staples, was raised by 30 percent. On Wednesday, the Fars news agency reported that the government had quietly begun phasing out monthly cash handouts of roughly $11 per person to some groups of Iranians.
Even the battered local currency, the rial, which the government props up, was allowed to fall by 8 percent this week, before recovering slightly.
For the most part, Iranians are sloughing off the bad news. What if the nuclear negotiations fail and sanctions are continued, or even toughened further? “In that case I will be very depressed,” Ms. Moghimi said. “But I really have the feeling that will not happen.”
The continuing support for the nuclear talks from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a beacon of hope for many in Iran’s private sector. “The leader of the revolution would not be backing a failing project,” Mr. Hassannejad, the oil and gas consultant, said in his office.
He said he had already made a round of hires in recent months in anticipation of a deal — and a subsequent wave of work. “The past years have been really difficult,” he said. “The quicker the talks end, the sooner we can start.”
Outside of the automotive conference hall, at the base of Tehran’s 1,300-foot Milad Tower, Iranians gazed at the latest car models from Iran Khodro. An investor, Massoud Ranajee, said he too was optimistic.
“But to be honest I have sold all my shares in this company,” he said of Iran Khodro. “If they sign a deal with a foreign company, I might consider buying, but for now, it’s all way too risky and uncertain.”
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