September 8, 2015 / 12:32 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 3-Austrian firms sign partnership deals in Iran during state visit

* Car parts, engineering, IT deals worth 80 million euros

* First Western firms to put down stakes since nuclear pact

* Austrian president sees trade volume growing (Updates with deals signed, Fischer meets Khamenei)

By Shadia Nasralla

TEHRAN, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Austrian companies signed a series of deals with Iranian partners on Tuesday, becoming the first Western firms to put down concrete stakes in the Islamic Republic since it reached a landmark nuclear deal with big powers in July.

Austrian businesses in industries including car parts, information technology and engineering sealed agreements worth 80 million euros ($89 million) at an economic forum in Tehran, Austrian Chamber of Commerce chief Christoph Leitl said.

It was part of a three-day visit by Austrian President Heinz Fischer, the first by a Western head of state in more than a decade and a sign of the cordial relations neutral Austria has kept through years of high tension between Iran and the West.

Tehran has bustled with Western business delegations since the diplomatic breakthrough with six world powers in which it agreed to curb its disputed nuclear programme in exchange for an end to sanctions, easing its international isolation.

Still, most Western firms have said they will wait until the nuclear agreement is implemented on the ground and sanctions are removed, which is widely expected to happen in 2016, before they make any firm business commitments in the Islamic Republic.

The WKO, Austria’s chamber of commerce, said the 15 deals and memoranda of understanding signed would comply with existing U.S. and European Union sanctions.

“The end effect is to create the structures for the years ahead,” Reinhold Mitterlehner, Austria’s deputy chancellor and economy minister, told reporters in the Iranian capital.

He said the partly state-owned Austrian energy group OMV was just making contacts as part of the delegation.

The WKO’s Leitl said seven more Austrian trade missions to Iran were scheduled for the second half of the year.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the recent period of sanctions was an exception in a centuries-long relationship between Iran and Austria, and he hoped Fischer’s visit signalled a new period of cooperation.

Vienna hosted the final stage of the marathon nuclear negotiations between Iran and the global powers.

Fischer, a Social Democrat, told his hosts on Tuesday of his hopes for economic benefits for both countries as overall Western diplomatic relations with Tehran thaw.

“We expect to boost our volume of trade to 300 million euros in the short term, and we then look forward to markedly increasing our economic relations,” he said in a joint news conference with Rouhani.

The WKO said trade ties could hit 1 billion euros by 2020.

Fischer said the two governments had also agreed to increase political and economic cooperation.

He met Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei later on Tuesday. Details were not immediately released. Khamenei, who has the final say on all major matters of state in Iran, has only rarely received Western dignitaries during his 26 years in office.

Fischer has faced some criticism over his visit by groups in Austria opposed to Iran’s Shi’ite theocracy.

$1 = 0.8965 euros Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Writing by Sam Wilkin; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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