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Iran's Rouhani Visits Paris as Part of 'Charm Offensive'


Iran's President Hassan Rouhani arrives to attend a meeting with French business leaders and politicians at a hotel in Paris, France, Jan. 27, 2016.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani arrives to attend a meeting with French business leaders and politicians at a hotel in Paris, France, Jan. 27, 2016.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in France Wednesday - the first official visit of an Iranian president there since 1999. Rouhani flew in from Italy where he closed business deals worth $18.5 billion. He is expected to do likewise in France.

The visits come after the sanctions were lifted from the Islamic Republic as part of an agreement with six major powers limiting Iran's nuclear development.

“He’s back in business. That’s the bottom line," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist of First Standard Financial company. "So he’s going to sell whatever he can. Certainly Europe is the place for him to be and also in emerging markets, more so than the United States.”

“A charm offensive!” declared Iranian expert Richard Nephew, former State Department official and now program director at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. He told VOA that “a primary objective of Rouhani’s presidency is to restore Iran’s normal ties with the rest of the world.”

But Nephew is suspicious of the trade deals Iran has made: oil to China, gas to Italy, a purchase of more than 100 Airbus planes from France.

“Let’s see what these trade deals result in. It’s one thing to announce a deal with China for $600 billion. We’ll see what that generates,” he said.

Nephew cited previous deals in Africa, “where up until now not a single penny was transacted.”

Help for ordinary Iranians

Does the lifting of sanctions uplift and aid the Iranian population?

"It might not," Nephew says. "This is a billion dollar question and a lot of Iranians, as I understand, have fairly mixed expectations with a lot of hope that things will turn around but the general glum demeanor is ‘maybe we’ll get something, but it will be a long time and a big effort to trust people who control the economy.'”

He added: “I think ultimately if trade deals allow for the growth of new industry in Iran, the automotive industry , for example, you will see unemployment go down, you’ll see a general improvement in the quality of life for the Iranians.”

The nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany broke a 12- year international standoff, during which Iran was accused of developing nuclear capacity for military purposes and hit with serious economic sanctions. After an agreement was signed in July 2015 to destroy Iran's existing nuclear materials and ultimately dismantle much if its nuclear program, the sanctions were lifted earlier this month.

With the sanctions lifted, Iran was free to sell itself to the world.

De-isolating Iran

According to Columbia’s Nephew, “Rouhani’s trip this week to Italy, his trip to France, is all part of the strategy to get Iran out of international isolation.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, leafs through a book he gave to Pope Francis as a gift, during their private audience at the Vatican, Jan. 26, 2016.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, leafs through a book he gave to Pope Francis as a gift, during their private audience at the Vatican, Jan. 26, 2016.

In Italy, Rouhani met with Pope Francis in the Vatican. The pontiff talked about terrorism, and said that Iran has a role to play in bringing peace to the Middle East. According to Nephew, the most significant role the Iranians can play is halting support for terrorist groups and the use of violence for political ends.

Rouhani also made time for some sightseeing, like visiting the Roman Colosseum and the Capitoline Museums. Museum officials covered up classical Roman statues of nude human beings by building boxes around them. It was done, according to officials, to avoid offending the Iranian president.

Rouhani did request it, but he thanked those responsible for wanting to put their guests at ease.

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