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During European Trip, Iran's President Stops In France

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During European Trip, Iran's President Stops In France

Europe

During European Trip, Iran's President Stops In France

During European Trip, Iran's President Stops In France

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Some European countries were big trading partners with Iran in the past, but while their companies are eager to rebuild that trade, they're also wary of Iran's hardliners and American prosecutors.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're also following the travels of the president of Iran. Hassan Rouhani wants to open up his country's economy. His big chance comes because of a nuclear deal that lifted economic sanctions. After visiting Italy and even meeting Pope Francis, Rouhani arrives today in France. European business leaders are happy to see him, as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRENCH RADIO SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED HOST: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The French media are abuzz over the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. When sanctions were lifted last week, the Iranian leader headed straight to Europe. In Italy, he signed a dozen business deals in the oil and gas sectors and for high-speed trains.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRENCH RADIO SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED HOST: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: But can we really trust Iran, asks this French radio show host. There is a mix of excitement and apprehension as Iran's market of 80 million people with a large and educated middle-class opens up again.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

BEARDSLEY: Ardavan Amir-Aslani is a Franco-Iranian lawyer representing French companies returning to Iran. He says it won't be easy to penetrate a country that's been isolated for decades.

ARDAVAN AMIR-ASLANI: Going back to a country such as Iran, cut off from the world, is basically a very adventurous task. You lack a number of necessary partners in this regard. There are no international lawyers, no international investment banks, no international accountants. And corruption is also an issue because Iran is ranking at the bottom of the world corruption scale.

BEARDSLEY: Iran is expected to sign a deal in Paris to buy more than a hundred aircraft from European plane maker Airbus. Economist and Iran expert Thierry Coville says Iran's needs in infrastructure - water, roads, airports - are massive.

THIERRY COVILLE: With the sanctions, the Iranian government was deprived of the quarter of its government revenues. So they just stopped investing in infrastructure for them. They could not maintain the security of the airplanes. Half of the Iranian planes are just out of order. And those who are flying I think are very dangerous.

BEARDSLEY: Coville says European companies from cosmetics to cars are eager to get back into a country with a population long deprived of Western goods. He says Iran was once French carmaker Peugeot Citroen's largest market.

COVILLE: You know, it was the biggest market for French in the Middle East before the sanctions. French companies have a good image in Iran.

BEARDSLEY: Coville says banks are wary about returning to Iran after the U.S. Treasury fined French bank BNP Paribas $9 billion in 2014 for breaking U.S. sanctions. Though the major nuclear sanctions have been lifted, the U.S. has maintained some sanctions against Iran related to human rights and terrorism. Ironically, says lawyer Amir-Aslani, American companies are not part of the rush back to Iran.

AMIR-ASLANI: America played the lead role in removing the sanctions. And here they are - European companies - rushing towards Iran to sign up contracts and American companies being excluded. So they are watching the scramble for markets from the sidelines.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Amir-Aslani says Rouhani's visit to Paris will not be exclusively about business. Iran is a fundamental opponent of ISIS, and President Francois Hollande will surely look for help in fighting the terrorist group. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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