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Europe courting Iran for business bonanza

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A view from the French government building near the Rodin museum.

Western governments have started wooing Iran as their draconian sanctions on the resource-rich country – an energy superpower – appear all but crumbling. 

France, where European aviation behemoth Airbus is based, has invited Iran’s Minister of Transportation and Housing Abbas Akhoundi to the year’s biggest air show in Paris.

Iran is planning a big order for commercial planes in order to renovate its aviation fleet which is creaking under years of restrictions. Akhoundi says up to 400 new aircraft at a price tag of $20 billion will be ordered. 

At the Paris Air Show, aviation and other executives were lined up to meet him.

"Iran is a big country which has been for many years under a tough embargo regarding aircraft. So it would suggest there is a big potential," Airbus Chief Executive Fabrice Bregier said.

Bregier admitted that his company’s officials had met with the Iranian transport minister.

"If there is a change because of political reasons and we are allowed to promote market and sell our product, then we will do that," he said, referring to the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 which are hoped to lead to the lifting of sanctions.

His views about Iran were echoed by Marty Bentrott, head of Middle East sales at Boeing. "We all recognize there is a substantial market opportunity."

Iran currently has a number of Boeing and Airbus jetliners in its fleet but the country has faced numerous problems for procurement of spare parts.

An official said this week little has changed since a preliminary agreement signed with Iran required the West to ease aviation sanctions.

Iran and the West are engaged in make-or-break talks in order to reach a final solution to their differences but both sides say progress is slow.

The Europeans, however, are already stepping up business contacts with Iran, sending delegates to explore trade opportunities.

Last month, Germany hosted Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh for rare high-level discussions about investments in oil, gas and petrochemical industries.

The French have taken their cue from their neighbor, thus inviting Iran’s transportation minister.

Addressing a conference at the International Diplomatic Academy in Paris, Akhoundi outlined Iran’s plans to spend $25 billion on improving its rail infrastructure and $30 billion on roads and motorways.

After meeting Minister of Territorial Equality and Housing Sylvia Pinel, the Iranian minister said three French groups will be visiting Iran in the coming two months for transfer of their experience in urban development.

Akhoundi also discussed capacities for bilateral cooperation in the fields of air, ground and sea transportation. He said the two sides had reached an agreement in principle to double flights between France and Iran.

Last month, the two countries signed six cooperation agreements for a series of projects in livestock and fish farming and exports of organic Iranian products to the EU as a senior representative of the French agriculture minister visited Tehran.  


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