Ahead of the planned lifting of Western sanctions against Iran, businessmen from around the world are visiting the country, and as one group from Germany discovered, there is no shortage of opportunities.
Early one morning at the beginning of October, Alfons Diekmann is standing at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport. He is wearing his comfortable travel pants and carrying a shoulder bag filled with only the essentials. “And what if they shoot you down?” his wife had asked.
But Diekmann decided to make the trip anyway, from Vechta, an administrative district in northern Germany, to Iran. His two egg-laying farms in Damme, in the southern Oldenburg region of northwestern Germany, produce 310,000 eggs a day. “When I started going to school, I couldn’t even speak High German,” he says, referring to the standard form of German spoken in Germany. Like other country boys, he says, he only spoke Low German, a dialect used in some parts of the northern end of the country. Diekmann was the youngest of nine children. His mother died when he was 10. “That made me strong. I wanted to succeed.”And that’s why Diekmann, of Alfons Diekmann GmbH, is standing at check-in counter 40 at Imam Khomeini Airport early in the morning, together with 98 other representatives of small and medium-sized companies from Lower Saxony. They include logistics and waste disposal experts, leading manufacturers of turbofans, plaster products, port cranes, special paints and pumping equipment, dump trucks and reel slitters, and now, at 2:30 a.m., they want the same thing: to get into Iran, at last.
After years of talks, the agreement on the Iranian nuclear program was signed in Vienna on July 14, 2015, paving the way for an end to the embargo against Iran. The country is expected to begin dismantling nuclear facilities by the first quarter of 2016. Then, on what has been dubbed Implementation Day, most of the economic sanctions will be lifted.
These are relatively vague prospects. Nevertheless, when the business owners from Lower Saxony go to breakfast the next morning, they quickly realize that they are not alone. The lobby of the Parsian Azadi Hotel is abuzz with delegations, Frenchmen, Croats on a “fact-finding” mission, Dutch, Italian and British businesspeople. Every day, there are reports in the Tehran Times on the arrival of “groups of high-ranking visitors,” “amicable talks” and the exchange of opinions and memoranda. It is literally a run on Tehran.
The various delegations seem to be sizing each other up, eager to determine which competitors are there, who has already established relationships with Iranians and who has quietly taken up positions. Businessmen discreetly peek at the nametags of their fellow passengers in elevators, and everyone behaves as if they weren’t there – as if they were in an indecent place.
The first to arrive, in July, was German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who drank tea with a carpet dealer in Isfahan. Then a group of businesspeople from the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg arrived, followed by a delegation of lawmakers. Bavarian Minister for Economic Affairs Ilse Aigner and her entourage are arriving in November. There are so many Germans coming to Iran that the German Embassy in Tehran has cancelled practically all employee leave since July.
“In the past, they would have met with every hairdresser. Now it’s very difficult to get an appointment at the cabinet level,” says Bernd Fedder of the state economy ministry in Hanover.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan