The first of 100 Airbus planes bought by Tehran after sanctions were lifted by the West has arrived in Iran. Despite billions worth of contracts, opposition remains to the controversial deal that opened trade ties.
For the first time in nearly 40 years, Iran has taken possession of its first Western-made passenger jet on Thursday.
Iran's state-run TV lauded the plane's arrival: "This is a historic moment for Iran, signaling the end of the sanctions era for the country ... This is a prelude to the delivery of other aircraft and the renovation of Iran's aging air fleet."
The country has 250 commercial planes, most of them purchased before 1979, but, as of 2016, only 162 were operational. Many have been grounded because of a lack of spare parts.
Iran Air owns one of the world's oldest fleets and has had to rely on smuggled or improvised parts to keep them operational.
The airline's website lists a fleet of 43 planes and offers direct flights to over 30 international destinations, including London and multiple destinations in Germany.
The country has been beset by international sanctions dating back to 1979 when religious hardliners toppled the Western-oriented government and seized the US Embassy, taking dozens of people hostage and holding them for 15 months.
Subsequently, Iran embarked on a nuclear program, which Tehran insisted was only to create electricity. But the United States and Europe accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons and imposed further sanctions on the country.
Iran nuclear deal
Iran's nuclear program and the associated sanctions were at the heart of prolonged negotiations that ultimately led to an agreement between Iran and world powers in 2015. It was signed by Iran, the USA, the European Union, Russia and China and called for Iran to submit to strict international monitoring of its nuclear program to ensure it was not pursuing nuclear weapons. In exchange, international sanctions were dropped.
So far, the agreement appears to have been a success, though it was bitterly opposed by Israel's right-wing government, as well as some Republicans in the Untied States.
President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to scrap the deal with Iran. The arrival of the first Airbus in Iran, just eight days before Trump's inauguration is seen as integral to sustaining the agreement.
"This (aircraft) delivery was very crucial ... especially the timing of it. Now people can see the result of lifting sanctions," a senior Iranian official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The Airbus deal is valued at $18 billion (19.1 billion euros) and the Boeing deal at $16.6 billion. Delivery of the Airbus plane makes it more difficult for Trump to pull out of the deal because of the economic blow to Boeing if Iran were to buy only European Airbus planes.
"Everything has been done according to the international regulations and rules up to now," said Iran Air Chairman Farhad Parvaresh. "We hope that nothing special happens to end this contract."
bik/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)