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Middle east

US warns France against doing business with Iran

© Photo: Iranian presidency website

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-06

The US has warned French companies not to violate sanctions in place against Iran, after some 100 French firms visited Tehran this week to rekindle business links in the Islamic Republic.

Questioned on the fleet of French executives visiting Tehran, Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN's Jake Tapper on Wednesday that France had been “put on notice."

"While the French may send some businesspeople over there, they're not able to contravene the sanctions. They will be sanctioned if they do and they know it,” he said.

“Nobody should doubt for an instant that the United States is prepared to enforce the sanctions that exist. And all of our allies are in agreement that those sanctions are staying in place until or unless there is a deal,” he said.

Separately, another US official this week said Kerry had told French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that the visit by 116 executives from France’s biggest firms gave the wrong impression of “business as usual” with Tehran.

Among the French companies represented on the trip were Airbus, Total, GDF-Suez, Renault, Alcatel and L’Oréal, a source close to the delegation told Reuters.

Iran ‘not open for business’

At the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland last month, Iranian President Hassan Rohani (pictured above, centre) said that that Iran was “fully prepared and ready to engage with all neighbouring countries” on issues such as business.

His comments came as the West began easing some international sanctions against the Islamic Republic following a November agreement between Tehran and six world powers in which Rohani’s government agreed to limit parts of its nuclear work.

The easing of the sanctions has seen firms from across the West racing for business opportunities in Iran after decades of closed doors. Kerry was keen to stress Wednesday that the changes would not see a significant change concerning opportunities in Iran

“Iran is not open for business,” Kerry said. “And Iran knows it's not open for business.”

On Tuesday, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told lawmakers in Washington that Kerry had spoken to Fabius “about the [French] trade delegation ... about how this is not helpful”.

“Tehran is not open for business because our sanctions relief is quite temporary, quite limited and quite targeted,” she said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticised Sherman’s comments, but without specifying which ones he was referring to.

“Such talk isn’t helpful and could adversely impact the [nuclear negotiations],” state media quoted Zarif as saying on Wednesday. “US officials should stop such comments so that we can reach a solution.”

Zarif added nonetheless that “some comments made by Americans are for domestic consumption”.

France ‘betting on future’

Asked about Kerry’s conversation with his counterpart Fabius, France’s foreign ministry said the two men speak regularly and that the main French employers’ association, MEDEF, had organised the trade delegation itself.

France, the eurozone’s second largest economy, has for months vaunted an “economic diplomacy” drive to secure trade agreements abroad. But France’s foreign ministry said that the government played no part in the Iran trip, placing responsibility firmly on MEDEF.

“It was that organisation’s initiative, in an exploratory capacity and in compliance with France’s international engagements,” the ministry said in an online briefing.

Pierre Gattaz, the head of MEDEF, said the delegation had not violated the terms of the interim nuclear accord.

“We faultlessly respected the Geneva Convention of last November; we’re familiar with this framework. There are other European country delegations who were in Iran,” he said.

French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici brushed off criticism from Kerry, saying the visit should not be taken as a “sign of laxity [or] endorsement” but as “a bet on the future based both on firmness and negotiation”.

"It seems to me that the signal given by this visit is exactly the opposite, which is to say: 'fulfill your obligations and, if one day that happens, things will go well,'" Moscovici said.

"If one day Iran changed its attitude then there would be, we know, significant commercial and economic opportunities for all countries."

The delegation on the trip this week met Mohammad Nahavandian, President Rohani’s chief of staff, and members of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, state news agency IRNA said.

US interests

Under Secretary Sherman and US Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen also sought to address concerns in Congress that too many concessions had been made to Iran in the nuclear talks.

While the initial agreement was “not perfect,” it bought time – negotiation of a full agreement will be sought within a year – to try to secure a comprehensive deal, US officials said on Tuesday.

US Ambassador to Germany John Emerson told a business conference on Tuesday that Iran sanctions were working, “so the worst thing that could happen is that companies that would like to do business with Iran [...] jump to the front of the line before we are able to conclude [...] this agreement”.

If Congress begins to see “a sieve or a hole in this process”, Emerson warned, “they’ll jump right in there and that could blow the negotiations up”.

But a European diplomat pointed out that while the US seemed to be discouraging foreign companies from warming relations with Iran, an American-Iranian business council was prepping US companies on how to do business with the Islamic Republic by hosting a conference in Washington in April.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-02-06

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