As nuclear talks continue, Iran's riches remain off limits

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave his blessing Thursday to continue negotiations over his country's nuclear program. When the deadline for an agreement passed this week, the talks with the U.S., Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany were extended till March.

In the meantime, U.S. sanctions on Iran will continue to be felt. Price hikes of about 30% are taking a heavy toll in a country where an ordinary working salary is just $500 a month.

The fact is millions of Iranians want a deal. In a hundred ways, every single day, they constantly feel the pinch of sanctions. They hope that sooner or later a negotiated settlement will bring relief.

No one will be watching those negotiations more closely than the long-suffering investors in the Tehran Stock Exchange. They've seen share prices in Iranian companies dive as the sanctions bit and nuclear talks stalled.

But Mojtaba Shabazi, a trader, thinks it doesn't have to be that way. He was optimistic about what would happen if sanctions ended tomorrow.

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"I think the market would explode," said Shabazi.

The companies that trade on the exchange reflect Iran's diverse economy -- not only oil, but also manufacturing.

Iranian stock trader Mojtaba Shabazi at work on the floor of the Tehran Stock Exchange

Iranian trader Mojtaba Shabazi at work on the floor of the Tehran Stock Exchange.

CBS

"Iran is extremely rich, both above the ground in terms of its human resources and below the ground in its natural resources," said Pirouz Rouzbeh, one of the most influential investment managers in Iran. "It's one of the last great untapped emerging markets in the world."

Where Western politicians see a nuclear threat, investors -- especially Europeans -- see a bonanza in Iran's vast oil reserves and beyond. But American companies, facing massive penalties for breaking sanctions, have to be much more cautious.

Rouzbeh says there will have to be a clear deal, which, as of now, remains murky at best.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."