* Minister says $80 bln of business available in transport sector
* Meets firms at Paris Airshow including planemaker Airbus
* Minister says France needs an Iran strategy
By John Irish
PARIS, June 16 (Reuters) - Iran’s transport minister said on Tuesday there was about $80 billion worth of business up for grabs in his sector, including the renewal of the country’s air fleet, but warned France it risked missing out unless it changed its stance towards Tehran.
France is one of six world powers negotiating with Iran over its disputed nuclear programme and has been one of the toughest in pressing for restrictions to prevent it from acquiring an atomic bomb, although it denies seeking one.
All sides are seeking a deal by June 30 that would reward Iran with relief from international sanctions, meaning it could soon collect debts from overseas banks that may exceed $100 billion.
That has prompted an Iranian diplomatic charm offensive across the world as it looks to attract companies to invest across all sectors, from its ageing hydrocarbon-based energy system to transport and general construction.
“There is no Iran strategy in France, and this is a source of regret,” Transport Minister Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi told a conference at the International Diplomatic Academy in Paris.
“Sooner or later the nuclear conflict will be resolved and France needs to decide on its position now.”
Akhoundi was speaking during the Paris Airshow, where he has been holding talks with executives from French firms including Thales and European planemaker Airbus.
He said Tehran would prioritise civil aviation once sanctions were eased because its ageing fleet risked being “out of service” within the next 10 years.
“We are thinking about regeneration of our air fleet ... 300-400 more aircraft worth a minimum of $20 billion,” he said.
Iran’s ambassador to France last week told journalists that Tehran was already negotiating with American firms including Airbus’ main U.S. rival Boeing.
Akhoundi declined to comment on that, but said that despite some “dogmatic” views in the West, Tehran did not plan to take retaliatory measures when contracts were eventually awarded.
“There will be international competition, but we will never allow ourselves to be dominated economically by the West again,” he said.
Akhoundi said potential investment in the transport sector included $25 billion on improving its rail infrastructure and $30 billion on roads and motorways.
France is considered to be demanding more stringent restrictions on the Iranians under any deal than the other Western delegations, officials have said, although U.S. officials have cautioned that Paris’s position privately is not as tough as it is publicly.
A senior French government official said he was not worried about missing out in Iran.
“It’s not because you’re the first one in that you’re the first served,” he said. “We’ll be ready. Don’t worry about French firms.” (Additional reporting by Clea Le Hir; Editing by Andrew Callus and Mark Trevelyan)