France says will sign deals during Iranian president's Paris visit

PARIS (Reuters) - France and Iran will sign several agreements, including in the air transport, during a visit by President Hassan Rouhani to Paris next week, the French presidency said on Tuesday.

France has a long history of commercial, political and social links with Iran - in the 1970s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei lived in exile near Paris. But France also took one of the hardest lines of the six powers negotiating an agreement on curtailing Iran’s nuclear program.

However, French officials have said they do not believe that will hurt its business in Iran and potential deals are likely to back that opinion.

“Several accords will be signed by French and Iranian ministers covering a variety of sectors, in particular political dialogue, economic cooperation, air transport, health and agriculture,” President Francois Hollande’s office said in a statement.

A senior French economic and political delegation headed to Tehran in mid-September to lay the groundwork for the first business contracts between France and Iran since an accord to curb its nuclear program was struck in July.

France’s main business lobby group, the Medef, sent a delegation comprising more than 100 firms to Iran. It included such companies as oil major Total, planemaker Airbus and car manufacturer Peugeot.

Officials say Paris may initially secure deals in areas that were not specifically hit by European Union and U.S. sanctions, most notably in agriculture and livestock, where France has relatively little activity in Iran.

The lifting of sanctions imposed on Iran by the West could begin in the first quarter of 2016 if Iran meets its obligations under the deal struck with major powers, which was intended to stop it acquiring nuclear weapons.

Rouhani will be in the French capital from Nov 16-17. Speaking on RFI radio, Iran’s ambassador to France Ali Ahani said Tehran expected a great deal from the visit.

“We are preparing certain agreements and memorandums of cooperation in industry in general, automobile, the energy sector which is important ... in the air and rail transport sectors. There are a lot of contacts in the automobile sector and things are progressing. I’m optimistic in different fields.”

Iran’s transport minister said in June about $80 billion worth of business was up for grabs in his sector, including the renewal of the country’s air fleet.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Larry King