So is Iran open for business? US Secretary of State John Kerry says no - but not everyone is prepared to tow Washington's line

Trade delegations have gone to Tehran from France, China, India, Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Italy, Austria, Sweden and even Ireland

Iran is not open for business; that was John Kerry’s blunt message to Laurent Fabius earlier this week. Washington has brought in the heavy artillery in an attempt to ensure that sanctions relief offered to Tehran in return for co-operation on its nuclear programme does not lead to a stampede by potential outside investors to take advantage.

The same message had been broadcast to the international business community by David Cohen, the US under-secretary for Terrorism and Financial intelligence in the Turkish capital Ankara last week. At the same time, Peter Harrell, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions, was in London telling British and French executives that any newly allowed trade with Iran must be concluded within a window of six months. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew was taking a similar line at the World Economic Forum in Davos; separately, a meeting on the theme was also being held with a number of companies in Paris. There are significant domestic as well as international concerns in the US; there are complaints in Congress, especially from those of the Israeli lobby, that Tehran is getting too easy a ride and President Barack Obama does not want another confrontation.

Kerry’s intervention with France’s foreign minister came as a delegation including Total, Peugeot Citroën, Lafarge, GDF Suez, Alstom and even a representative from Auxerre football club was preparing to set off for Iran this week – underlining how not everyone is prepared to tow the Washington line.

Under the interim agreement signed last month Tehran would get limited sanctions relaxation in a number of fields, including motor and aircraft parts manufacturing, petrochemicals and humanitarian goods, with the deal reassessed after six months by Western states.

Iran has launched its own trade offensive on the back of this, and a part of that, too, took place in Davos where President Hassan Rouhani and his officials stressed their country’s co-operation on the nuclear issue as well as the investment opportunities.

Oil minister Bijan Zanghaneh met energy executives including those from Chevron and Shell. He plans to hold a conference in London this year where some of those attending will be the same executives who were being warned about the pitfalls of Iranian investment by Mr Harrell last week. London, meanwhile, is also going to be the venue for a test case on the whole issue of the legality of sanctions on enterprises.

In Iran, businessmen say the Russians and the Chinese are vying to offer barter deals for oil before European companies arrive with the technology the Iranians want. American companies, meanwhile, are complaining they may lose out because of the US administration’s punitive stance. The Homa Hotel in Tehran, which aims for a corporate clientele, reported a rise in European guests by 30 per cent from last year. Trade delegations had gone to Iran from China, India, Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Italy, Austria, Sweden and even Ireland. “We are quite encouraged by the interest, we hope it will continue to rise,” stated Mehrdad Jalalipour, director of Iran’s Trade Promotions Organisation.

But the prize, high-profile visitor has been Recip Tayyip Erdogan. After a gap of two years during which relations plummeted over Tehran’s support for the Assad regime in Syria’s civil war while Ankara was backing the rebels, the Turkish prime minister has been to Iran again, declaring that it was his “second home”. Rouhani will reciprocate by going to Ankara.

Iranian and Turkish officials predicted trade between the two countries, which stood at $22bn in 2013, would rise to $30bn in 2014. Mr Erdogan met supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well as President Rouhani and signed three trade deals. He declared: “We hope the process [sanctions relief] will be finalised with an agreement that will ensure the removal of all sanctions on Iran. Turkey has so far done its best in that regard and will continue to do so.”

Arriving in Ankara the day before Mr Erdogan’s Iran visit, Mr Cohen was keen to emphasise that the sanctions relief was “limited, temporary and reversible”. He also took up the issue of Turkey’s state-run Halkbank, now at the centre of corruption allegations involving the sons of government ministers and over its role in transactions between Turkey and Iran.

There have been accusations that Halkbank was being used to enable Iran to evade sanctions. Suleyman Aslan, the chief executive officer, has been detained. A search of his house led to the discovery of $4.5m stuffed in shoe boxes. According to Turkish police, front companies were set up in China; money was transferred from Iran in the guise of paying for imports from China and was immediately forwarded to companies in Turkey, partly to pay for real purchases and partly for gold which was then sent back to Iran, sometimes via Dubai.

Turkey, it is alleged, opened an account for Iran in Halkbank because, due to sanctions, it could not pay for oil and gas it was buying through natural channels. In three years, it is claimed, $8bn of gold was sent to Tehran.

The US banned gold exports to Iran in July last year, resulting in the accumulation of an estimated $13bn of imported gold in Turkey. Mr Cohen said that Halkbank’s handling of payments for importing oil from Iran was expected to continue. “We want to have good lines of communications with the Turkish government about this and we think we have that,” said Cohen.

But a scheduled visit by US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, was postponed, which was portrayed in the local media as a show of displeasure over Turkish inter-action with Iran and also Prime Minister Erdogan’s reaction to the corruption allegation, the sacking and transfer of hundreds of police officers and prosecutors.

American legal action over Iran sanctions is likely to be aimed at Turkish companies rather than the government. But in London an Iranian bank is planning to claim $750m from the British government this month. Bank Mellat’s action follows a ruling by the Supreme Court that UK authorities were wrong to impose sanctions on it in relation to Iran’s nuclear programme. By making British taxpayers potentially liable, the case may help persuade European states to ease measures against Iranian firms.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage

Watch this commuter make a mad 320-metre, 75-step dash to work
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK edition of wedding show forced to recast after wave of drop-outs
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Supply Teachers needed in Stowmarket

£1034496 - £1516224 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The Job:Randstad ...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week