France and Italy mull deals with Iran on visit by Rouhani

France and Italy mull deals with Iran on visit by Rouhani
PARIS/ROME — President Hasan Rouhani brings the case to Europe this week for Iran as a potential investment bonanza, after the lifting of financial sanctions brought his country of 80-million people back into the world of global commerce.

Mr Rouhani championed the deal under which Iran curbed its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of US, European Union and United Nations sanctions this month.

On his first trip abroad since the accord, he will lead a 120-strong delegation that includes Iranian entrepreneurs as well as the oil and gas minister and other officials for five days in Paris and Rome. He will meet Pope Francis and French President Francois Hollande.

A week after nearly all sanctions were lifted, French and Italian officials still do not expect major deals to be signed yet during the trip.

Mr Rouhani has spoken of a “long road” to Iran’s economic integration with the world.

Iran demonstrated its hunger for western goods at an aviation conference on the eve of the visit, announcing plans yesterday to buy eight A-380 superjumbo jets from Airbus and up to 100 aircraft from Boeing.

The visit also comes as global diplomats are trying to arrange the first peace talks in two years to end the Syrian civil war.

The visit to France, the first by an Iranian president since 1999, will provide opportunities to smooth over particularly awkward relations with a country that has historically been comparatively friendly.

Paris took a hard line towards Iran among the six powers that were party to the nuclear negotiations, and has been outspoken in its condemnation of Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Trust needs to be built,” said a senior French diplomat.

“On the nuclear accord, the relationship is relaxed, but not on the other subjects.

“There is no change on the Iranian position for now on a number of regional issues … so the idea (of the visit) is to open a new page,” the diplomat said.

Since July, Paris has appeared more conciliatory. A senior French economic and political delegation travelled to Tehran in September.

About 130 firms took part ranging in sectors from agriculture to construction and tourism to lay the groundwork for the first business accords between the two countries since the nuclear deal.

Companies such as Total, aircraft maker Airbus and car manufacturer Peugeot are interested in the new opportunities.

“There will be some accords and progress on deals,” said another French diplomat.

“But I do sense some prudence among companies,” the diplomat said.

Without the same diplomatic constraints as France, Italian officials appear more upbeat.

Italy has traditionally had close economic ties with Tehran and is rubbing its hands at the prospect of a possible surge in new contracts following the demise of sanctions.

Italy’s export credit agency, Sace, has said Italian exports to Iran might rise by about €3bn in the four-year period between 2015-18.

Exports totalled an estimated €1.56bn last year.