France is gearing up for the resumption of its substantial economic dealings with Iran, under the assumption that a nuclear agreement with Tehran is likely in the near future, Reuters reported Monday night.
Around 100 French companies are reportedly planning to participate in a delegation to Tehran in September to review business opportunities in the Islamic republic.
And a French diplomat told Reuters that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius planned to visit the Iranian capital soon after an agreement is signed in a bid to normalize relations.
French diplomats have met with businessmen and have told them there is “no time to waste” in preparing for renewed economic ties.
According to Reuters, French trade with Iran totalled over $3.4 billion in 2011, but has shrunk to a fraction of that ($556 million in 2013) ever since tough economic sanctions were placed on Tehran that same year.
“Everyone is looking at Iran with greed,” a senior French official said. “It’s an important market.”
But officials noted that France remains heavily invested in Iran’s geopolitical foes in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Gulf states. Paris’s military sales to those nations have surpassed $15 billion over the past year.
“There was a strategic decision to be made on who could face Iran as it pushes its pawns in the region,” a diplomat said. “That’s Saudi Arabia and Egypt. That’s the choice we’ve made.”
Iranian Transport Minister Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi recently called his country’s contacts with France a “love and hate” relationship.
“Sooner or later the nuclear conflict will be resolved and France needs to decide on its position now,” he said during a recent conference in Paris. “I am certain that the businessmen will have more realism than the politicians.”
Meanwhile world powers and Iran prepared to move past Tuesday’s deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement, with officials suggesting significant backtracking by Tehran’s negotiators that may need several more days of discussions to resolve.
Monday was originally envisioned as the penultimate day of a 20-month process to assure the world Iran cannot produce nuclear weapons and provide the Iranian people a path of out of years of international isolation. But officials said over the weekend they were nowhere near a final accord, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif flew back to his capital for further consultations.
Several signs pointed toward Iranian intransigence and perhaps even backsliding on a framework it reached with world powers three months ago. At a briefing for some three dozen, mainly American, reporters, a senior US official repeated several times that the final package must be based on the April parameters — “period.”
Fabius, who was in Vienna over the weekend, repeated his country’s red lines for an agreement: stricter limits on Iranian research and development, capacity for UN nuclear monitors to verify the deal and the ability of world powers to snap sanctions back into place quickly if Iran cheats.
The US official said many of the trickiest issues involved in the negotiation remained unresolved. These have been described by others as the level of inspections Iran will grant International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, how fast the US and its partners would lift sanctions on Iran, and the exact restrictions on Iranian research of advance nuclear technology.
AP contributed to this report.