Saturday, January 4, 2014

'Chance of a Century': International Investors Flock to Tehran

    Saturday, January 04, 2014   No comments

By Susanne Koelbl
Since the West reached a landmark deal with Iran on its controversial nuclear program late last year, many Iranians are hoping for an end to sanctions. Western companies are also gearing up do big business.

Daniel Bernbeck has learned that in Tehran there's no point getting worked up about things like the gridlock between Gholhak, his neighborhood in the northern part of the city, and downtown, where his office is located. Here he is again, stuck in traffic, with everyone honking their horns. Tehran is a murderous city, says Bernbeck, even without international sanctions and threats of attack from Israel.

Bernbeck is sitting in a gray SUV. He's a wiry, tall blond man who wears lawyer-like glasses. The only departure from the standard business look is a narrow soul patch on his chin, which suggests a certain degree of individualism. His cell phone rings. Bernbeck's Iranian secretary is on the line. She's expecting him, and the deputy German ambassador has also arrived, along with two investment bankers from London and Hong Kong. They are asking about stock tips for Iran.

"Iranian stocks for Hong Kong?" Bernbeck exclaims with a grin, and then says in his best Farsi: "The same bankers would have said a year ago: You're crazy." Then he asks the driver to hurry up, although it doesn't do any good.

Bernbeck is the head of the German-Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Tehran. He paves the way for business ties in a country where Western politicians have been trying for decades to make such relationships impossible, especially since 2006.

At the time, the Islamic Republic started to rapidly expand its nuclear program. Intelligence agencies predicted that it would be only a matter of a few years before the Iranians had a nuclear bomb. Arab Gulf states in the region felt threatened, and Israel was determined to go to war with Tehran if a political solution could not be found quickly.

For over five years now, Bernbeck, 50, has been living between these two adversarial worlds, more specifically "on the dark side of Mars, where the cannibals and Holocaust deniers live." Bernbeck says that's how Iran is portrayed in the West.

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