Sanctions on Iran soon will be lifted under the nuclear deal, leading to a whole new world for some of the country's specialty goods. By Teresa Welsh | Staff Writer Jan. 15, 2016, Tins of caviar from the Caspian Sea in northern Iran are canned for export. Embargoes on caviar and other Iranian exports are expected to be lifted soon as part of the Iranian nuclear deal reached in July. Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images
* * *
Americans will soon be able to feast on Iranian caviar and pistachios while reclining on soft Persian rugs. These items will be legal to import into the U.S. following implementation day of the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, which was anticipated as soon as Friday, officials reportedly say. As part of the agreement, some sanctions on Iran will be lifted and some $50 billion to over $100 billion in frozen assets will become accessible to Tehran. The landmark deal, which was reached in July, restricts Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States. As soon as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, verifies that Iran has taken the prelimenary technical steps outlined in the agreement, the landmark deal will go into effect. In addition to food and carpet imports, the embargo on aviation exports is scheduled to be lifted, and Iranian officials have announced plans to purchase dozens of airplanes from Boeing. But even after many Iranian entities are taken off the U.S. government's blacklist, most American companies will still be banned from doing business there, says Richard Nephew, a former principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the State Department. Restrictive sanctions imposed for Iran's missile proliferation activities, terrorism and human rights violations will remain in place. Foreign companies, which were previously banned from the U.S. market if they did business with Iran, will reap the most benefit from the deal. Both U.S. and foreign companies allowed to do business with the Islamic Republic after implementation day will have to navigate the complex sanctions regime that remains in place. And not much will change for everyday Americans, according Nephew. "The key issue is most of the things that are covered here only cover U.S. imposition of sanctions against people who are not U.S. people," Nephew says. "If you're a U.S. person, the world does not change hardly at all on implementation day." Iran maintains its program has always been peaceful, but the IAEA last month concluded that the Islamic Republic had a coordinated effort to develop a nuclear explosive device prior to the end of 2003, with some relevant activities after that year. The nuclear watchdog also concluded that there's no evidence Iran pursued a nuclear weapon after 2009. The resolution of IAEA's outstanding questions since Iran blocked inspections in 2011 was one of the requirements for implementation of the agreement. Also as part of the preparatory steps, Iran is in the process of removing centrifuges and says it has dismantled its heavy-water reactor Arak. In December, Iran shipped 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium materials to Russia, which Secretary of State John Kerry described as "one of the most significant steps" toward fulfilling commitments to the agreement. Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, says implementation day cannot come until IAEA inspectors also put their monitoring regime in place. "The monitoring and verification regime is a multilayered approach that covers every element of Iran's nuclear fuel cycle. It essentially puts Iran's nuclear fuel program under the international community's microscope," says Davenport. "Most importantly, if inspectors have a concern about illicit activity anywhere in Iran, they will be able to access those areas even if they're on military sites within 24 days to investigate their concerns. And that's an unprecedented inspections measure." Critics say verification mechanisms give Iran too much input, and that the regime is likely to cheat on the restrictions imposed by the deal. The Obama administration says such a development would trigger a snapback of sanctions, but critics argue that it would be impossible to reimpose the regime once it's been dismantled. Critics of the deal also point to Iran's recent behavior – proxy wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen; a ballistic missile test in October in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions; a diplomatic feud with regional foe Saudi Arabia and the 16-hour seizure of 10 U.S. sailors in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday – as signs that the country doesn't deserve the benefits of the deal. The Republican-controlled House this week passed a bill intended to block the administration's plan to roll back sanctions. For his part, President Obama has promised to veto the Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act, which would require a certification that an entity has not done business that supports Iran's ballistic or conventional weapons programs or a terrorist organization before being delisted. Because the Iran deal has become so politically contentious, industry is closely watching the presidential race to gauge the risk of investing in Iran. "If Hillary Clinton is president of the United States, I think people will start to feel much more comfortable very quickly. I think you'll start to see business really pick up come December of this year or certainly in January," Nephew says. "If, on the other hand, we've got President Rubio or President Bush or whomever, I think you might see more reluctance to get involved until they see exactly what's going to happen."