Iran's Rouhani in Paris to revive business ties

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 27, 2016 8:52 AM

By John Irish and Bate Felix

PARIS (Reuters) - Iran's President Hassan Rouhani arrives in France on Wednesday with the bosses of oil major Total and aircraft maker Airbus among top executives he is due to meet as the two countries look to revive business ties despite diplomatic differences.

On his first trip abroad since a sanctions-ending nuclear accord took effect, Italy this week already rolled out the red carpet for the pragmatist Shi'ite president and his 120-member delegation of business leaders and cabinet ministers, signing a raft of deals.

But with France taking a hard line in nuclear negotiations, being outspoken in its condemnation of Tehran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and having close ties with Sunni states, the Paris visit will be more low key.

"It's true that Iran has returned to the international community, but it doesn't mean we agree on everything, especially on Syria," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, since July, French economic and political delegations have traveled to Tehran to explore opportunities. Officials have said certain "commitments" could now be agreed, although how definitive they are is unclear.

Rouhani begins his trip to Paris by meeting some 20 company executives. He is due to deliver a speech to business leaders on Thursday at a Franco-Iranian forum, where Iranian ministers will outline their plans.

Face-to-face talks are scheduled with the Total and Airbus bosses, diplomatic sources said. Several agreements are due to be announced after a meeting with President Francois Hollande.

Iranian officials have said they are poised to agree on a deal for Airbus aircraft. Carmakers Peugeot and Renault may also agree contracts.

Airport design and construction talks may be on the agenda too, potentially involving builders Bouygues and Vinci and airports operator ADP.

Although many sanctions relating to Iran's nuclear program have been lifted, most U.S. measures remain in place. Companies are worried about the sanctions snapping back if Iran violated the terms of the agreement and are including this scenario in their risk analysis.

"Investing in Iran is not exactly like investing in Holland or Denmark," a French diplomatic source said. "Everyone wants to be certain that there's no Damocles Sword hanging over them before investing."

French officials said Hollande would also discuss human rights and executions in Iran. Opponents to the Iranian government will protest across Paris on Thursday.

"Rolling out the red carpet for Rouhani by European governments is to welcome the godfather of terrorism and fundamentalism," said Maryam Rajavi, head of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran.

(Reporting by John Irish and Bate Felix; editing by Geert De Clercq and Andrew Callus)