These days the media is full of articles on Iran being on the verge of opening for business. An article in The New York Times today sums it up well – interest is high, but the sanctions laws have really not changed and logistical barriers keep enthusiasm to exactly just that, enthusiasm.
There is much talk of trade missions to Iran and I even saw an invitation to a conference on doing business in Iran post sanctions. Given that there is no clear outline as to what will be liberalized when, this may be considered a bit premature.
Of course, it’s not necessarily illegal to plan per se, but one has to be exceptionally careful with that. One can be, like President Obama, “cautiously optimistic” and have an eye to the future. That said, deal singing, etc. (outside what is legal and the very limited spaces that will become legal (see a previous post on this blog on this exact topic of post-Geneva) are probably a bit farther off the horizon than many would hope, especially for Americans.
If anything, the enforcement of compliance will likely be increased by US authorities in the coming months to prevent cracks in the sanctions regime. This, coupled with misunderstandings by businesses and individuals, can potentially expose careless entities to huge penalties, civil and criminal. In addition to OFAC, there is also the Department of Justice, which brings forth criminal suits. There are many cases related to sanctions violations on Federal dockets around the United States, and if still within the Federal statute of limitations (generally 5 years with some exception) US Attorneys can still bring forth cases for activities that were illegal when they happened, even if those same activities are legal now. Again, as stated before on this blog, compliance will be all the more important. While it is important to see what is liberalized, knowledge of that space should be definite and one should not rely on gut feeling and news articles alone. Remember, that there are still sanctions on Myanmar, and the Iraq sanctions took many years to be repealed (even after a US-led invasion!).
Assuming Iran and the P5+1 enter into a more permanent agreement in the months to come, expect more liberalization of certain areas. These may create very unique business opportunities for US persons, given Iran’s large potential. The key is not to be cavalier and to pay particular attention to compliance – remember, even companies trading with Europe and east Asia allocate resources to this, and Iran should obviously be no exception.