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Middle east

Iran welcomes French business giants in landmark visit

© Photo: AFP

Video by Charlotte HAWKINS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-04

Iran welcomed the most senior French trade delegation in decades on Monday, with some 100 companies hoping to revive economic ties amid the easing of Western sanctions following a landmark agreement over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme.

Semi-official Fars news agency said economic sectors such as information technology and hotel groups, as well as financial, banking and investment, water, aviation, cement, food industry, shipping, insurance and pharmaceutical companies are also represented in the delegation.

Among the companies represented on the three-day visit were Safran, Airbus, Total, GDF-Suez, Renault, Alcatel, Alstom, Amundi and L'Oréal.

The group of investors is the largest European business delegation to visit the country since the Islamic revolution in 1979. They met private Iranian business leaders on Monday and will attend an Iranian-French business conference on Tuesday.

The visit follows similar delegations from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, South Korea and other countries that have flocked to Iran recently to explore new trade opportunities after Iran reached a historic deal with world powers in Geneva on November 24.

European firms are eager to win back business in the oil- and gas-producing country of about 80 million people, where some previously had extensive operations.

‘Cooperation is real’

"A new chapter has begun in relations between Iran and Europe," Mohammad Nahavandi, President Hassan Rohani's chief of staff, was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

"You should carry the message back that potential for cooperation with Iran is real and not to be overlooked," he told the delegation. "Those with longer foresight stand to win this race."

A French embassy source in Tehran told Reuters that the visit was merely exploratory and "nothing is to be signed this time around".

"Many of these firms have worked in Iran before and their goal now is to restore links," the source said. "The very make-up of the delegation shows that these people are here to evaluate potential for cooperation."

"The delegation is scouting for potential grounds of cooperation and possibly to revive their old presence. Our investors never entirely abandoned Iran. They just cut down their presence and are now looking for a comeback."

Billions in unfrozen funds

Under November's interim deal between Iran and six world powers, Tehran agreed to stop production of 20 percent enriched uranium by January 20.

In return, some sanctions imposed over the nuclear programme – which Western countries suspect is aimed at developing arms despite Iranian denials – were relaxed from that date.

Iran will be able to spend $4.2 billion in unfrozen funds over six months, although most sanctions remain in place pending a long-term agreement.

In the short term, business opportunities are limited, but the potential of Iran's market is a magnet for foreign firms seeking long-term opportunities.

Russian interest

Last month, Reuters reported that Iran and Russia were negotiating a deal worth $1.5 billion a month under which Russia would buy up to 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil in exchange for Russian equipment and goods.

The White House expressed concern about the report, saying that such a deal, which would significantly boost Iran's oil exports, could trigger US sanctions.

Asked to comment on US worries regarding the possible purchase of Iranian oil by Russian companies, Russia's Ambassador to Tehran, Levan Dzhagaryan, told Russian daily Kommersant in an interview published on Monday: There have been no agreements signed yet, talks are ongoing."

He added that major Russian oil producer Lukoil had expressed interest in returning to Iran and that nuclear energy cooperation was also being discussed.

He said Russia does not recognise the sanctions against Iran introduced by the US and the EU and Moscow would not consider itself in breach of international law if it acted against them.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)

Date created : 2014-02-04

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