The French government has welcomed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Paris with the signing of billions of dollars worth of deals aimed at bringing the two countries' economies closer together.
It was the first time an Iranian leader had visited Europe in an official capacity since 1999, but French politicians and executives wasted no time on Thursday making clear to the leader of the Islamic Republic how keen they were to get back to business.
French and Iranian companies had inked nine commercial deals by the time Rouhani met with French President Francois Hollande. The one that carried the largest price tag was with Airbus, which agreed to sell Iran Air 118 jets worth 22.8 billion euros ($25 billion).
Iran is looking to revitalize its economy now that most Western sanctions have been lifted following a landmark deal over the country's nuclear program. Rouhani was just in Rome, where signed agreements worth more than $15 billion.
Billions of barrels
Other big winners on Thursday included French car maker Peugeot-Citroen, which said it would work with Iran Khodro to manufacture 200,000 cars a year outside Tehran, and oil and gas company Total, which came to an understanding with the National Iranian Oil Company on purchases of crude oil.
Total did not provide further details on its agreement, but French media cited the company's chief executive as saying the deal would allow for the import of between 150,000 and 200,000 barrels per day.
Iran sits on massive oil reserves but had trouble selling its product abroad while sanctions were still in place. Its return to oil markets has been met with disdain by other major energy exporters,such as Saudi Arabia,
which lament an already oversupplied global market and, consequently, low oil prices.
'A new relationship'
Rouhani said his visit hailed the beginning of a "new relationship" between France and Iran, suggesting the two "forget the resentment" that had coalesced while Iran was shut out of global trade.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls struck a similarly harmonious chord, saying: "France is available for Iran. Iran can count on France."
Rouhani's visit wasn't without its detractors. Some demonstrators, including a member of the women's protest group FEMEN who staged a mock hanging, criticized what they saw as the hypocrisy of pandering to authoritarian leaders just because there was an opportunity to make some money.
French businesses had a foothold in Iran long before the most recent sanctions began to bite. Peugeot-Citroen, for example, was a major player in Iran's car market and negotiations for the deal it signed on Thursday had been underway since before the sanctions were lifted.
In Germany, Europe's largest economy, it's a similar story. German entrepreneurs weresome of the first to visit
their counterparts in Iran after Western nations struck a nuclear deal with Tehran last July, along with Economy Minister and Social Democrat leader Siegmar Gabriel.
cjc/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)