Agreeing that Iran’s population is a young, highly-literate, and technologically-astute one, Ambassador Ken Lewis – a former Canadian ambassador to the UAE – observed that Iran’s class of engineers are more interested in developing and assembling new technologies themselves than buying them already made. Unlike some of Iran’s neighbors, “in Iran, they don’t just want the picture book, they want the technical specs.”
Likewise, Christopher Schroeder – a tech entrepreneur and venture investor – posited that, because of the vitality and youthfulness that underlay Iran’s economic future, “America could choose to sit on the sidelines, but [a tech boom in Iran] is going to happen anyway.” That was clear based on his interactions with hubs of young tech developers in Iran, he said — 40% of whom were women and all of whom were clearly on the cutting-edge of developments in the tech world.
Some in the West were clearly anticipating big developments in Iran. The Europeans, Ambassador Lewis noted, “are stealing our lunch [right now.] They are filling hotel lobbies in Iran,” laying the groundwork for their re-entry into Iran should a nuclear deal be successfully concluded. American companies, on the other hand, will still likely face a U.S. economic embargo that is not expected to be lifted as part of a nuclear deal and thus continue to bar such trade.
Despite Iran’s economic promise, though, major stumbling blocks remain. Erich Ferrari, a DC-based attorney specializing in Iran sanctions law, noted that there exists a “culture of over-compliance and immense fear” among banks that will not quickly evaporate following a nuclear deal. The best example of this, Ferrari added, is the Joint Plan of Action the P5+1 and Iran agreed to last November, where a financial channel was specifically established for humanitarian transactions already exempted from sanctions. Establishing such a channel, Ferrari said, was a tacit admission that sanctions have a legacy that will be far more difficult to roll-back.
Nonetheless, the promise for broader ties is alive. Capping off the panel, Schroeder noted, “I have been in no emerging market that…, from bottom-up, has more potential [than Iran].” Whether that potential will be cultivated by the United States for broader ties between the two countries might well be determined in the coming weeks.