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Iran may welcome Asian and European firms before U.S.

Iran this week welcomed the lifting of international sanctions against it, but that doesn't mean, say, the Golden Arches will be lining the streets of Tehran anytime soon.

"Lifting of sanctions will facilitate access to Asian and European companies, but will more than likely bypass the U.S," said Reza Akbari, a senior program officer at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, who researches Iran. "America is still viewed as the enemy by the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and other ruling conservatives and any U.S. company's entry would symbolize a victory for the West, especially popular brands such as McDonald's or KFC."

Nuclear sanctions on Iran were lifted on Saturday. However, new U.S. sanctions were imposed on Sunday due to Iran's ballistic missile testing.

U.S. companies plan to hold informational meetings with government officials in coming weeks to understand the "commercial implications" of the recent actions, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. companies are leery about conducting business in a country with a troubled economy and where corruption is rampant, experts said.

"The economy has been suffering from many problems, including the sanctions," said Farid Abolfathi, a senior director at IHS Global Insight. "It will take them a huge amount of effort to get the economy back on track."

The U.S. Justice Department "comes down hard on firms" that violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids U.S. companies from paying bribes overseas, said Gary Clyde Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a nonpartisan research group. "Other countries have similar laws but they aren't as intensively enforced -- it's a real concern."

Still, companies including Coca-Cola (KO) have found loopholes to conduct business in Iran, despite years of sanctions. In Coca-Cola's case, the company has a special permit from the U.S. government to sell beverage concentrate to an independent bottler. The Atlanta-based company declined to say if it was considering other investments.

ConocoPhillips (COP), which left Iran in 1995 due to sanctions that barred U.S. companies from investing in Iranian oil projects, said in an email that it is not engaged in business discussions with Iran. The spokesperson for the oil company declined to elaborate further.

Boeing (BA) could be among the first U.S. corporations to receive overtures from Iran, as the country has said it needs 400 civilian aircraft over the next decade and officials in Tehran have signaled an eagerness to talk to the aerospace giant, according to Akbari.

The company, however, sounded a cautious note. "There are many steps that need to be taken should we decide to sell airplanes to approved Iranian airlines," Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in an email.

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