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Iran's Rouhani calls off Austria visit at last minute, citing security

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 26, 2016. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani postponed a two-day visit to Austria indefinitely for security reasons on Tuesday, the evening he was supposed to arrive in Vienna, his Austrian counterpart’s office said.

It was not clear what the security reasons were, a spokeswoman for Austrian President Heinz Fischer’s office said.

A planned Rouhani visit to Baghdad immediately before the Austrian trip had, however, also been postponed for security reasons, Fischer’s office and an Iranian official said.

“We were working (on preparations) until 5, 5:30 p.m.,” the spokeswoman said, underlining the short notice as Rouhani had originally been expected to arrive around 7:30 p.m. local time.

The visit was due to be Rouhani’s second to the European Union since international sanctions against his country were lifted in January under a landmark nuclear deal with major powers that was negotiated in Vienna last year.

The Austrian Chamber of Commerce had said 1 billion to 2 billion euros ($1.1 billion to 2.3 billion) of business deals would be signed, a sum dwarfed by Rouhani’s visits in January to Italy and France but still significant for much smaller Austria.

Rouhani, the chief architect of the nuclear deal and keen to open Iran’s economy to the world, had been due to meet Fischer and other officials on Wednesday and Thursday.

Fischer issued a statement expressing regret and understanding at Rouhani’s move, without explaining it.

“Of course, it goes without saying that each state must make its own decisions about security and the head of state’s security,” Fischer said. “The quality of relations with Iran will not be affected by this postponement.”

Reporting by Francois Murphy and Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich