Saturday, 03 February, 2018

With Boeing deal, Americans are coming to Iran


By Thomas Erdbrinksept , NYtimes

Long before the first newly purchased Boeing airliner lands at Imam Khomeini International Airport, Iran and the United States will have had to come to terms with a new reality: American citizens will once again be taking up residence in Tehran, the first to do so since the Islamic Revolution and subsequent hostage crisis in 1979 and 1980.

When the United States on Wednesday gave the green light for the direct sale of Western planes to Iran, much more than nearly four decades of sanctions on such deals came to an end. Not that the deals approved by the Treasury Department are insignificant: 80 Boeing jets and an initial batch of 17 Airbus planes out of a potential total of 118.

But the sale will have the important effect of ending an era of absolute isolation between the countries. Boeing will almost certainly have to open an administrative office in Tehran, and technicians will have to move here to train their Iranian counterparts in the care and maintenance of the planes. Among them, almost certainly, will be many Americans.

That seems to be exactly what the United States had in mind in approving the deal, Iranian analysts say. The deal not only allows President Hassan Rouhani to show a tangible gain from warming relations with the West, but also moves Iran that much closer to his ultimate goal of normalization of relations with the United States.

“Once this deal is a fact it will be much harder for the hard-liners to try to prevent relations with the United States,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political activist who supports Mr. Rouhani. “Nobody can deny that with the planes, people and know-how will enter Iran.”

Word of the Boeing and Airbus deals came as Mr. Rouhani was attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Mr. Rouhani said Iranian officials already had developed relationships with counterparts at both aviation companies through “many visits,” and that Iran welcomed foreign businesses and investments.

“I do not see any problems,” he told reporters. It is the United States government, he said, that is responsible for keeping American companies from the Iranian market. “If Americans have problems, they need to resolve their own problems,” he said.

Buying planes from the United States, opening a Boeing office or having American representatives at an international airport might seem insignificant. But they represent a tectonic shift in relations.

In 1980, when ties between the countries were severed, all 140,000 Americans living in Iran were forced to leave. The United States Embassy was turned into an ideological museum and all American businesses left over the years, as sanctions made commerce increasingly difficult, and more recently, impossible.

The bureaus of The New York Times, Bloomberg and some other news media organizations were long the only official American entities allowed to operate in Iran, either by the Iranian authorities or under United States sanctions.

When Conoco won an oil contract in Iran in 1995, it secretly opened an office in Tehran, only to close it when Congress adopted tougher sanctions.

Many Iranians hope the January nuclear deal,  which led to the lifting of some of those measures, changed all of that, citing the jetliner deal as the start of a new era. “We are getting to a point where the gap between economic relations and political normalization is gradually getting smaller,” said Saeed Laylaz, an economist close to the government.

Hatred of the United States was the ideological bedrock of the Islamic republic, however, and there are strong forces dedicated to keeping it that way. Police officers some months ago closed a knockoff KFC restaurant after hard-liners protested, saying the chicken wings were a symbol of Westernization. When someone tried to open a McDonald’s franchise here 20 years ago, it took just two days for the restaurant to be burned down.

And there are still many sources of tension, particularly the harassment of United States Navy vessels by Iranian naval speedboats and the imprisonment of several Iranian-Americans with dual nationalities. Those episodes and others like them are not likely to disappear soon, as they serve the interests of hard-liners who want to discourage any sort of rapprochement.

“No, we should not have relations,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a conservative political analyst. “We hard-liners also want safe planes. But we need to keep our independence and distance from the United States. That is one of the pillars of our ideology.”

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