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Iran’s Rohani in Paris to strengthen diplomatic, commercial ties

© AFP / Eric Feferberg | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (2nd-L) attends a meeting with French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron (2nd-R), in Paris on January 27, 2016.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2016-01-28

Iranian President Hassan Rohani was met by business leaders and government ministers – as well as protesters – as he arrived in France on Wednesday for an official visit during which he is expected to sign a host of commercial deals.

After arriving in Paris, Rohani and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron before hosting leaders of France's business community at Rohani’s Paris hotel.

A few dozen people protested the visit in front of France's Foreign Ministry, some shouting "Rohani dictator, down down Rohani." The demonstration was linked to the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, the most vocal and best organised Iranian opposition group, which plans a bigger demonstration Thursday.

The group, which was long on US and EU terror lists until it renounced violence, was notably protesting executions by the Islamic republic.

The visit, the first to France by an Iranian president since 1999, is the second leg of a trip signalling Tehran's rapprochement with Europe after sanctions were lifted against the Islamic Republic.

>>> click here to watch "In pictures: France and Iran's turbulent diplomatic history" on your mobile <<<

Rohani flew in from Italy, where he sealed industrial deals worth between 15 billion euros and 17 billion euros ($18.5 billion).

Even before he touched down in France, the Iranian transport minister said a deal would be rubber-stamped to buy 114 passenger planes from Airbus.

Rohani will also ink a deal marking the return of French carmaker Peugeot to Iran, in partnership with Iranian manufacturer Khodro, according to a French government source.

Peugeot will produce 200,000 vehicles a year beginning in 2017.

When Peugeot pulled out of Iran in 2012 under the weight of the Western sanctions over the country's nuclear programme, it was the maker's second biggest market after France.

'France holds a 1 percent market share of the Iranian economy - that's now likely to change'

In another potential business bonanza, French oil giant Total is said to be interested in buying Iranian crude.

Rohani will have talks with President François Hollande and they will hold a joint press conference which is expected to touch on Iran's bitter feud with Saudi Arabia.

The visit had originally been scheduled to take place after the November 13 jihadist attacks on Paris, but was postponed.

Defiance over Saudi row

At a press conference rounding off his Rome visit, Rohani was defiant when asked whether Iran would apologise to Saudi Arabia for an attack on its embassy by demonstrators furious over Riyadh's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

It is not up to Iran to make a move towards reconciliation in a crisis that has seen Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran, he said.

"Why should we apologise, because (activist and Shiite cleric) Nimr al-Nimr was executed? We are the ones to apologise because they are killing the people of Yemen? Apologise to them because they are helping terrorists?" he asked.

"They are the ones who should apologise to Muslim people, hundreds of times."

Rouhani, a 67-year-old former academic and diplomat who is seen as a pragmatist, was elected in 2013 on a pledge to end sanctions and improve relations with the West.

The Iranian leader met with his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with whom he oversaw the signing of several economic agreements in the prestigious setting of the Campidoglio, or City Hall.

The president is accompanied by a delegation of more than 100 ministers, officials and businessmen, eager to seal deals as Europe's manufacturing and engineering sectors clamour to get into the Iranian market as it opens up.

On Monday, Rouhani attended a business forum at which he portrayed Iran as the ideal base for companies seeking a foothold in a region of 300 million people and reassured would-be investors their contracts would be honoured.

"Iran is the safest, the most stable country in the entire region," Rouhani said.

Iranian Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi said Sunday that Tehran would sign a deal "between Iran Air and Airbus" when Rohani is in Paris. An Airbus spokesman declined to comment.

Rohani himself said: "We need to modernise our aviation fleet and buy locomotives."

Iran has been rebuilding its relations with Italy and France, which were among Tehran's main economic partners before the tightening of international sanctions in January 2012.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

Date created : 2016-01-27

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