Iranian president targets Europe business deals
By Eric Maurice
Less than two weeks after the suspension of UN, US and EU sanctions, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is reaping the rewards during a visit to Italy and France.
Accompanied by a delegation of 120 business leaders, Rouhani will be in France on Wednesday and Thursday (27-28 January) and is expected to sign an €18.5 billion deal to buy 114 Airbus aircraft.
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He will also meet French business leaders involved in carmaking, construction, infrastructure, water and waste treatment as well as in the petrol and gas sectors, and several deals could be announced.
In Italy on Monday and Tuesday, the Iranian president closed several business deals worth €17 billion. Most notably, the Saipem company signed a memorandum of understanding for gas and oil projects worth €3.5 billion.
He also signed 17 cooperation accords with Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi. The agreement covers industry, mining, the health sector, banking, shipbuilding and infrastructures.
Renzi, who said that the visit was "just the beginning" in relations between Italy and Iran, announced he would travel to Iran in the coming months.
After years of Western sanctions Iran is set to modernise its economy and industry. Europe, once Iran's main trade partner, is trying to position itself.
On 17 January the EU energy commissioner said an EU delegation would travel to Iran soon to explore possible cooperation on nuclear, oil, gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The Iranian president's visit has come with some unusual arrangements. On Tuesday, antique nude statues in Rome's Capitol museum were covered to avoid shocking the delegation.
In Paris, the meeting between Rouhani and president Francois Hollande will be held between lunch and dinner, because the two leaders' offices could not agree on whether to have wine on the table or not.
Despite the political will and economic appetite, business leaders are waiting to see how the relation with Iran will evolve.
Sanctions were lifted because Iran complied with demands on its nuclear military programme. But if it stops respecting its commitments, sanctions would be imposed again.
"There is a risk," a business source told French daily Liberation. "Everyone goes [to Iran] because you have to be there. But the reverse gear is ready to be activated."