* France's most senior business delegation to Iran in
* Iran hails new chapter in relations with Europe
* Russia also in talks on larger role on Iranian market
By Mehrdad Balali and Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI/ANKARA, Feb 3 Iran welcomed the most
senior French trade delegation in years on Monday, telling more
than 100 executives that the far-sighted among them stood to win
the race for business following an easing of some economic
The prospect of a relaxation of commercial restrictions has
whetted the appetite of French firms eager to win back business
in an oil- and gas-producing country of about 80 million people
where some previously had extensive operations.
"A new chapter has begun in relations between Iran and
Europe," Mohammad Nahavandi an, President Hassan Rouhani's chief
of staff, was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
"You should carry the message back that potential for
cooperation with Iran is real and not to be overlooked," he told
the delegation. "Those with longer foresight stand to win this
The delegation of more than 100 executives from Medef, the
French employers' association, on a Feb. 2-5 trip, met
Nahavandian and members of Irans Chamber of Commerce,
Industries, Mines and Agriculture, IRNA said.
A source close to the delegation told Reuters it was the
most senior group of entrepreneurs and financiers to visit Iran
since the 1979 revolution, representing the defence, aviation,
petrochemicals, automotive, shipping and cosmetics sectors.
Among the companies represented were Safran, Airbus
, Total, GDF-Suez, Renault,
Alcatel, Alstom, Amundi and
L'Oréal, the source said.
"Many of these firms have worked in Iran before and their
goal now is to restore links," the source said. "The very
make-up of the delegation shows that these people are here to
evaluate potential for cooperation."
A French embassy source in Tehran said the visit was merely
exploratory and "nothing is to be signed this time around".
"The delegation is scouting for potential grounds of
cooperation and possibly revive their old presence. Our
investors never entirely abandoned Iran. They just cut down
their presence and are now looking for a comeback."
Former French ambassador to Iran Francois Nicoullaud told
Reuters that French firms that operated in Iran before the
sanctions wanted to return.
Peugeot and Renault had already sent executives to Iran for
an automotive conference last year.
RUSSIA ALSO IN TALKS
Under November's interim deal between Iran and six world
powers, Teheran agreed to stop production of 20 percent enriched
uranium by Jan. 20.
In return, some sanctions imposed over the nuclear programme
- which Western countries suspect is aimed at developing arms
despite Iranian denials - were relaxed from that date.
Iran will be able to spend $4.2 billion in unfrozen funds
over six months, although most sanctions remain pending a
In the short term, business opportunities are limited, but
the potential of Iran's market is a magnet for foreign firms
seeking long-term opportunities.
Last month, Reuters reported that Iran and Russia were
negotiating a deal worth $1.5 billion a month under which Russia
would buy up to 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil in exchange
for Russian equipment and goods.
The White House expressed concern about the report, saying
such a deal, which would significantly boost Iran's oil exports,
could trigger U.S. sanctions.
Asked to comment on U.S. worries regarding the possible
purchase of Iranian oil by Russian companies, Russia's
Ambassador to Tehran, Levan Dzhagaryan, told Russian daily
Kommersant in an interview published on Monday: There have been
no agreements signed yet, talks are ongoing."
He added that Russia's No.2 oil producer Lukoil
has expressed interest in returning to Iran and that nuclear
energy cooperation was also being discussed.
He said Russia does not recognise the sanctions against Iran
introduced by the United States and the European Union and
Moscow would not consider itself in breach of international law
if it acted against them.