To Iranian Business Leader, Nuclear Pact Opens Long-Awaited Opportunities

To Iranian Business Leader, Nuclear Pact Opens Long-Awaited Opportunities

7:55am Jul 17, 2015

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now let's go inside Iran for another perspective. Mehdi Behkish is an economist. He heads the Tehran office of the International Chamber of Commerce. Our colleague Steve Inskeep interviewed him in Tehran earlier this year. When news came that the Iran nuclear deal was reached and it appeared sanctions could be eased soon, we gave Mehdi Behkish a call. We began by asking how he first got news of the nuclear deal.

MEHDI BEHKISH: I was in my office in Tehran, and my daughter called me from Canada.

GREENE: From Canada.

BEHKISH: Yes.

GREENE: And what did she say?

BEHKISH: She said, dad, the deal was made.

GREENE: And how did you react to that?

BEHKISH: Oh, I was somewhat surprised.

GREENE: Surprised? Because it sounded like - when you were talking to Steve, when he was in Tehran - that you were pretty optimistic this would happen.

BEHKISH: I was optimistic, and I was actually sure that it will be made. But to hear that it is already done is kind of very surprising, you know, because you're also expecting something happens, a delay such as what happened before.

GREENE: Well, just remind me if you can why you were so excited about this deal. You know, why is this so important to you?

BEHKISH: I'm economist, and I know that the sanctions have done much to the economy. Our economy has not been going well. Because I know the potentials as an economist, so I know how prosperous this economy can be, and it's not.

GREENE: You know, and you told my colleague Steve Inskeep that if there is a deal, you would be ready to come to Washington in four or five months to start trying and making things better as quickly as you could, even opening a U.S. -Iranian Chamber of Commerce.

BEHKISH: Yes.

GREENE: Is that still your plan?

BEHKISH: That has been discussed here because I'm running the International Chamber of Commerce. And we are in contact with the business communities of about 90 countries, including USA. So I have very good relations with ICC - I mean, the International Chamber of Commerce - in USA.

GREENE: Do you worry that you're being a little too optimistic? I think about President Obama. He said this week that, you know, he's very focused on this deal and, you know, making sure that Iran does not get a nuclear bomb, but that he still sees your country as supporting hostile elements in the region. I mean, it doesn't sound like this deal is going to create an instant friendship.

BEHKISH: You know, I think business within Iran and the states will start to grow, but it will be very gradual. And we have to see how the things will evolve - always, though, some possibility of something wrong happens. But business community normally are ready to take risks when the (unintelligible).

GREENE: You're 70 years old.

BEHKISH: Yes.

GREENE: I wonder if it's frustrating to think about how gradually this change could come.

BEHKISH: OK. You know, they call me a liberal economist in this country. And so when I started to talk about market economy and I published my book about 12 years ago, some people told me that you may be killed. But I did it, and still I am living. So I'll work on it until I leave. Then later, other people will take the flag.

GREENE: When you are gone, there'll be other people who will sort of carry the flag for you.

BEHKISH: Sure, yeah.

GREENE: Sounds like everything you've been through and the risks you've taken, you have a lot of patience.

BEHKISH: I do have. In countries like us, you know, you have to be patient because things will evolve very slowly. I feel that responsibility because, you know, I'm educated to do it. And I will do it as well as I can.

GREENE: That was Mehdi Behkish. He heads the Tehran office of the International Chamber of Commerce. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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