Nuclear deal in Iran could pave way for tourism boom

Last Updated Jun 6, 2015 8:58 AM EDT

TEHRAN - As American diplomats face four more weeks of work on a nuclear deal with Iran, American tourists are taking in the country's sights. The agreement, which would lift sanctions against Iran in return for the curtailing of its nuclear program, could help draw even more tourists, like Ruth and Tom Claiborne from Atlanta.

We met the Claibornes in Tehran, where the main danger they and other Americans face is legendary traffic congestion.

"Most of our friends said 'Why are you going, why on earth are you going there?' And indicated they would worry about us," said Ruth.

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American tourists Ruth and Tom Claiborne in Tehran CBS News

But they were keen to see a country that's been largely off limits for more than three decades. Iran has some of the most spectacular sights on the planet. This year, roughly 2,000 Americans will come to see them. That's double the number that came in 2014.

There are some places that are not on tour routes, like the former American Embassy, which has been closed since 1979. It's still known here -- officially -- as the "nest of spies."

Events like the U.S. hostage-taking in 1979 or the hardliners who chant "death to America" remain politically sensitive.

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The site of a large tourism-related construction project in Tehran CBS News

"We didn't hear any death to America, in fact, just the opposite," said Tom. "I think the average Iranian in the street is excited about the possibility of a nuclear deal with the United States."

Ebrahim Pourfaraj is counting on a deal. He runs one of the biggest private tour companies in Iran and has invested in a vast construction project that will be -- by 2017 -- a 54-story hotel and conference center.

"We'll carry on in any case, but without sanctions, doing business will be certainly be easier and more tourists will continue to come," said Pourfaraj.

  • Elizabeth Palmer
    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."