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France enters battle to win business in Iran

France has made a move to restore once-lucrative trade ties with Iran by opening up a business development office in the capital Tehran during a visit by a senior company leaders and government representatives this week.

France enters battle to win business in Iran
French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll (L) and Iranian Minister of Agricultural Mahmoud Hojjati (R). Photo: AFP

France opened a business development office in Tehran on Monday seeking to renew once-strong economic ties with Iran after
the July 14 nuclear deal in the face of “fierce competition”.

French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll and Minister of State for Foreign Trade Matthias Fekl inaugurated the “Business France” office on a visit with some 150 business leaders that is to run until Wednesday.

The delegation, organised by France's business lobby group Medef, includes representatives from giants such as Total, Airbus, Peugeot.

“We are trying to identify areas where we can move forward, but we're not going to do business at any cost,” a senior French official told news agency Reuters.

Le Foll warned that French companies face “fierce competition” from other European and American firms seeking a slice of the Iranian market with its 79 million population.

France's longstanding business ties with Tehran should give it an edge, he said. “What we want is to promote and rely on what already exists, on what must be developed and then also to innovate,” the minister said.

In the sanctions era, French companies scaled back their activities but without closing shop in the Islamic republic.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond visited Tehran last month following in the footsteps of his Italian, French and German counterparts as European businessmen line up to invest in the Islamic republic's drive to revamp its battered economy.

Fekl said the opening of the “Business France” office in Tehran was “a strong signal of our desire to work in the long-term” with Iran.

French trade with Iran dropped from some €4 billion ($4.5 billion) in 2004 to €500 million ($565 million) in 2013 as a result of international sanctions imposed on Tehran since 2006 due to its disputed nuclear programme.

But the landmark accord struck in July with six world powers — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany — provides for lifting the sanctions in exchange for Iran not developing nuclear weapons.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is to visit Paris in November.

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DIPLOMACY

Iran snubs French call for missile talks citing ‘lack of trust’

Iran rejected France’s call for talks on issues beyond the nuclear dossier on Friday, saying it was impossible so long as Western powers failed to meet existing commitments.

Iran snubs French call for missile talks citing 'lack of trust'

“There is no basis of trust for negotiations, certainly on subjects which are non-negotiable,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Ghasemi, according to the Tasnim news agency.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday that Iran must be open to discussions on its missile programme and regional interventions.

But Ghasemi said Europe must first show it can salvage the 2015 nuclear deal following the withdrawal of the United States in May and its reimposition of sanctions.

“The European authorities have up to now repeatedly stated their position but have not succeeded in presenting the necessary and sufficient guarantees that we are awaiting… to preserve the international agreement,” he said.

“The Iranian people have no other solution than to be mistrustful towards them while their commitments are not being fulfilled.”

Le Drian’s latest comments echoed some of the reasons given by US President Donald Trump for his withdrawal from the nuclear agreement.

“Iran cannot avoid discussions, negotiations on three other major subjects that worry us the future of Iran’s nuclear commitments after 2025, the ballistic question… and the role Iran plays to stabilise the whole region,” Le Drian said in Vienna.

Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons and says its missiles are a legitimate defence against much more heavily armed rivals.

The 2015 deal lifted international sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s nuclear programme.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday that Iran was still keeping to its commitments.

But the return of US sanctions has led most European firms to abandon projects in Iran and is already impacting its oil sales ahead of a second wave of measures targeting its energy industry in November.

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