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Iran nuclear deal: Can common interests across global business help?

Yes, it could still fall apart.

But this week’s historic agreement between the United States and other world leaders and Iran significantly limiting that country’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon has within it an epic opportunity for the international business community.

It won’t happen quickly and it won’t be easy. But there are already embryonic stirrings that give hope macro common interests and common sense may yet prevail in a part of the world long rife with conflict, death and destruction.

Institutionally, there may well be opportunities for organizations such as the United Nations “Business For Peace” program to expand current efforts in the area.

Shorter term and more specifically, many business leaders see opportunities for investment in the Iranian economy and for marketing to Iran’s 76 million consumers whose buying power has been constrained by international sanctions. A day after the agreement, Fatemeh Moghimi, CEO of an Iranian transportation company, said that, “Iran had become an island, disconnected from the world …Trade will pick up” she predicted, “cargo ships will once again sail into our ports …This deal is like a bridge of peace connecting our island to the world … Good times are coming.”

But not so fast. There are many issues to be examined with the deal itself, not the least is the concern by neighboring countries that Iran “hardliners” will press for use of the income from sanctions relief to support more intrusive violence in the region.

And business itself needs to operate in a secure, stable, uncorrupted economic environment. Too, the Iranian regime is likely to restrict Westernized marketing of brands, logos and pop culture. Reza Zandi, an Iranian journalist specializing in the energy industry, may have offered a prophetic assessment in his appraisal: “Just the removal of sanctions will not heal this desperate patient.”

All that said, influential voices are also being heard with positive messages. One is Vali Nasr, distinguished observer and participant in Mideast geopolitical affairs. He recently offered optimistic long range insights for such prospects in his April 14, 2015 New York Times Op-ed, “Saudis Should Welcome the Iran Deal“:

“… a final nuclear deal is much likelier to make the Arab world more secure for a decade or more, by preventing Iran from getting a ‘breakout’ … And that would give the whole region time to address the real issue of its instability: the lack of effective pluralist government in fragile states throughout the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.”  [emphasis added] 

Moreover, Dr. Nasr, who is Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, presented a strategic foundation for a very significant role for global business in his 2009 book, “Force of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World“:

“There is a vital but unseen rising force in the Islamic world  — a new business-minded middle class – that is building a vibrant new Muslim economy … their distinct blending of Islam and capitalism is the key to bringing lasting reform and defeating fundamentalism … They are the people the West can and must do business with.”

Can there be a more important role for business in society in the decades ahead?