• France looking to rebuild links with Iran
  • Nuclear accord offers the chance for rapproachment
  • Oil banking and car manufacturing could benefit most from Iran agreement

The French government is seeking to rebuild political and commercial links with Iran following the nuclear accord between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 world powers, including France, on 14 July.

France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who completed a short visit to Tehran on 29 July, invited Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to visit Paris and meet France’s President Franscois Hollande in November and was told that a new era could start in Iran for French oil major Total.

Other French companies are reported to be making overtures to Tehran. Iranian officials say car manufacturer Peugeot is in talks to provide parts to Iran Khodro, Iran’s leading car maker.

Fabius delivered a letter of invitation for Rouhani in the first visit by a French foreign minister to Iran in 12 years. He said the 14 July nuclear accord offered the chance for rapprochement.

“We are two great, independent countries,” he said in the French Embassy in Tehran. “It is true that in recent years, for reasons that everyone knows, the ties have cooled, but now, thanks to the nuclear deal, things will be able to change.”

Fabius also held a short press conference with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, where the invitation to Rouhani from Hollande was announced – the first to France by an Iranian president since 1999.

Zarif and Fabius said political dialogue had resumed at ministerial level.

“From now, we hope to deepen our relations in all areas. We want to start a new chapter in a sense of common interest,” Zarif said.

Fabius held talks with Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, who said “a new chapter could open” for Total when sanctions are lifted.

Fabius is a contentious figure in Iran due to his hard-line approach to the nuclear negotiations and charges that he was responsible for allowing blood products contaminated with the AIDS virus to be exported when he was prime minister in the 1990s.

Hashem Yekezareh, managing director at Iran Khodro, earlier in July told Iranian media that experts from Peugeot are in Iran and are in talks with with Sapco, the material and parts subsidiary of Iran Khodro.

Before the intensification of sanctions against Iran in 2011, the Islamic Republic was Peugeot’s second-biggest market after France, with sales volume of about 400,000 cars a year. Peugeot pulled out in 2012 due to pressure from its then-partner General Motors. The US company has since sold its Peugeot stake.

Peugeot continues to be Iran’s most popular foreign car brand. Before Peugeot’s withdrawal, Iran Khodro assembled Peugeot cars using kits and spare parts sent from France. It continued to produce cars with the Peugeot name and made 319,000 Peugeot-branded cars in 2014, according to Iranian car industry registration figures. It sourced its parts from local manufacturers and other intermediaries.

“Fabius will be traveling to Tehran to look for a way to compensate the losses that French auto makers have suffered after losing the Iranian market,” Iran’s state news agency Fars wrote before the French foreign minister’s visit.   

“This is while the damages that France has inflicted on the Iranian economy [due to the departure of Peugeot and other companies] are yet to be determined.”

Peugeot’s Africa and Middle East director, Jean Christophe Quemard, said in late July that the nuclear accord “allows for a significant advance in our ongoing discussions.”

A French economic and trade delegation accompanied by the agriculture minister and deputy foreign ministers are to visit Tehran in September.

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