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Iran is not open for business, US tells France

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Iran is not open for business, US tells France
France's President Francois Hollande (R) shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rowhani (L) on September 24, 2013. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP
09:13 CET+01:00
A visit to Iran by a large French business delegation drew a stern warning from Washington Tuesday that most US sanctions remain in place and will be enforced even against allies.

The 116-strong French delegation, with representatives from major companies like Total, Lafarge and Peugeot, was the largest of its kind from Europe since a landmark nuclear deal reached with the major powers in November gave Iran limited relief from crippling US and EU sanctions.

French employers' union vice president Thierry Courtaigne said the delegation, which arrived in Tehran Monday, wanted to assess the commercial opportunities opened up by the easing of Western sanctions.

But a senior US official said Secretary of State John Kerry had telephoned his French counterpart Laurent Fabius to tell him that the visit - while from the private sector - was "not helpful" in sending the message that "it is not business as usual" with Iran.

Testifying before sceptical lawmakers, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said Washington was warning the growing number of business delegations heading to Iran that sweeping sanctions remained in place.

"Tehran is not open for business because our sanctions relief is quite temporary, quite limited and quite targeted," said Sherman, who is overseeing the administration's cautious efforts to seal a diplomatic solution to the decade-old nuclear standoff with Iran.

"It doesn't matter whether the countries are friend or foe - if they evade our sanctions, we will sanction them," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Just last month, the US Treasury announced that Luxembourg financial clearing house Clearstream Banking had agreed to pay the United States $152 million to settle accusations it illegally helped Iran's central bank access the US financial system in 2007 and 2008 in violation of US sanctions.

Businesses beating path to Tehran
 
The French delegation is the latest in a string of foreign trade missions to beat a path to Tehran since the November deal.
 
Late last month, a large delegation visited from fellow NATO member Turkey, headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the neighbouring countries aimed to more than double trade to $30 billion (€21.9 billion) next year from $13.5 billion in 2013.
 
The French were given a warm welcome by Iranian leaders, who promised new measures to encourage foreign investment, particularly in its oil and gas sector.
 
In a speech to them, Deputy Oil Minister Ali Majedi said Iran's latest five-year plan, running from 2010-2015, calls for $230 billion of investment in its petroleum industry, of which $150 billion would go to upstream activities, according to the official IRNA news agency.
 
He said nearly all downstream projects, for refineries and distribution, would be offered on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) or build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) basis.
 
Major oil companies have steered clear of Iran in recent years because of the strict Western sanctions.
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