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February 4, 2015

Editor’s letter: Iran also in from the cold?

Is Iran the new Cuba? Judging by the news reports from Geneva’s nuclear talks, a compromise between Washington and Teheran could be reached at some point in 2015.

The global accountancy profession must be watching very closely for the outcome of the P5+1 group’s negotiations. All these countries, by the way, should know an awful lot about nuclear weapons. The whole P5 (the US, Russia, China, the UK and France) have nuclear warheads – the exception being the +1, Germany.

Worth remembering the US was the first to use them in WWII against the Japanese, when, according to some historians, Japan was already defeated.

And France declassified documents in 2013 about the consequences of its nuclear testing in Polynesia during the 60s, 70s and the 90s.

Never mind. The talks about Iran’s nuclear ambitions come on the back of December historic announcement by President Obama that the US will seek to restore diplomatic relationships with Cuba after more than 50 years of animosity between the neighbours.

I’m sure the global profession is also keeping an eye on the ongoing US-Cuba talks. Nonetheless, there are significant differences between Iran and Cuba, as well as similarities.

Iran and Cuba have in common a well-educated population with an avid appetite for pursuing university degrees, particularly in accountancy and finance.

Cuba has 33,450 accountants for an 11 million population. In Iran there are 8,000 accountants for 78 million people and more than 200,000 students a year begin accountancy studies at Iranian universities.

Yet the Iranian profession has managed to develop further and reach impressive levels of maturity and international standards compared to its Cuban colleagues.

Few would remember the last time a US business (including accountancy practices) was run in Cuba, after the exodus from the island in the late fifties and the subsequent international sanctions and embargo.

That hasn’t been the case in Iran. As recently as 2013 international accounting firms had members in the country and prior to 2010 that included the Big Four.

A driving force behind the exodus of international firms (not just in the accountancy sector) has been the US lobby group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). Its "hard soft power", as UANI CEO Mark Wallace describes it, has extended the scope of the embargo turning it into an overarching boycott.

But as we explain in our country survey, while UANI’s campaign has removed international players from Iran, the national profession is taking over strongly and resiliently filling the void left by international peers.

As far as the accountancy profession is concerned, to what extent has UANI’s campaign backfired?

In addition, accountancy being a catalyst for financial transparency and accountability, a chance might have been missed to build a more democratic Iran with international firms and other stakeholders sharing their know-how on the ground.

After our July 2014’s report on Cuba, The Accountant tackles the Iranian conundrum this month. Find out what the future of one of the oldest civilisations in the world looks like.

Iran survey: Clean slate after the embargo

Carlos Martin Tornerocarlos.tornero[at]

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