News / Middle East

    Rouhani Heads to Europe to Start New Chapter in Relations 

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping after their meeting at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Jan. 23, 2016.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping after their meeting at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Jan. 23, 2016.
    Lisa Bryant

    For a second time in just over two months, Italian and French officials are polishing the welcome mat for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this week, hoping to begin a new chapter with the strategic Middle Eastern nation. This time, they hope it will bear fruit. 

    Rouhani’s trip to Europe was originally scheduled for November, but abruptly canceled following the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed and wounded almost 500 people. 

    Now Rouhani has dusted off his aborted agenda, as he pays a groundbreaking visit to Italy, the Vatican and France to forge new ties with Europe as his country emerges from isolation. 

    He arrives in Italy on Monday, where he meets with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and other top officials, and speaks at an economic forum. He also holds talks with Pope Francis  becoming the first Iranian leader to do so in almost two decades, before heading to Paris on Wednesday. 

    Back on international scene

    Rouhani comes to Europe empowered by the lifting of international sanctions against Iran earlier this month, as payback for the nuclear deal struck with world powers in Vienna last year. 

    “Iran’s return to the international stage is possible,” French President Francois Hollande said last week, but signaled it was up to Tehran to realize this by reducing tensions in the Middle East, and notably with Saudi Arabia. 

    For his part, the Iranian president brought the message that Tehran was willing to do business with Europe, said analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges, of the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations. 

    “He’s here to say to heads of government and to Europeans, ‘we are a normal state, we want peace, we want to work with you and strike deals with you,’” he said. 

    Foreign investment

    The Iranian leader may get one of his warmest welcomes from Italian and French business leaders, eyeing a market of 75 million people. Rouhani said Iran’s goal of 8 percent annual growth could only be achieved through billions of dollars in foreign investment. 

    Italian businesses like energy group Eni are eager to rekindle historically thriving business ties, amid a larger European push to reboot annual trade with Tehran to its pre-sanctions level of roughly $30 billion. 

    In France, Rouhani signaled in an interview with French media late last year that Iran was interested in doing deals in areas like car manufacturing, agriculture and aviation “that will form the basis of our commercial agreements” with France. 

    Noting several major French companies were already present in Iran, including Toulouse-based European aircraft maker Airbus, Rouhani added, “we will buy from these big companies, notably Airbus.” 

    Indeed, on the eve of his trip this week, Iranian Transport Minister Abbas Akhoondi announced Tehran plans to buy 114 Airbus aircraft, as well as planes from US manufacturer Boeing. 

    For their part, French carmakers Peugeot and Renault are vying for Iranian business, while telecoms company Bouyges and Aeroports de Paris are reportedly in talks to construct a second terminal at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini international airport. The Sephora beauty company and sporting goods retailer Decathlon reportedly also have plans to open stores there. 

    But French banks, including Credit Agricole and BNP Paribas, are more hesitant. They did not take part in a business delegation visiting Iran in September, underscoring lingering fears about the risks of investing there. Both were fined for violating U.S. sanctions against Tehran. 

    Nor is everybody sold on the opportunities in the Middle East’s second largest market after Saudi Arabia. “The Iranian market is not the Chinese market,” analyst Defarges said. “And I think that many French businessmen are going to realize that they’re going to have to compete with many others, like the Americans, the British and the Germans. It won’t be an easy game.” 

    Diplomatic challenges

    For his part, Rouhani faces diplomatic challenges. France and Iran have a long diplomatic history, but relations have been prickly in recent years. 

    While Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini spent part of his exile outside Paris, France today hosts many refugees from Iran’s subsequent 1979 revolution. That includes Maryam Rajavi, leader of the opposition People's Mujahedeen of Iran, which is based in the small French town of Auvers-sur-Oise. 

    Other roadblocks can be traced to France’s own diplomacy. Not only did Hollande’s government adopt one of the toughest Western positions during the Iran nuclear talks, but it is among the most adamant voices demanding the ouster of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad — who counts Iran among his biggest champions. 

    There have even been gastronomic tensions. Rouhani’s planned visit in November was overshadowed by reports of a cancelled state meal with Hollande over Iranian demands that only Halal meat and no wine could be served. 

    Iran, however, wanted to show it didn’t hold grudges, Defarges said. “It wants to show it’s not bitter, it’s willing to talk with anybody, including France,” he said.

    The context has also changed since November’s terrorist attacks for which the Islamic State group, a shared enemy of Tehran and the West, has claimed responsibility. Defarges believes Hollande’s government may be shifting back to France’s historically pragmatic approach when it comes to Middle East diplomacy. 

    “Mr. Rouhani’s visit to France will be easier than before the terrorist acts, because the French government knows now it must work with Iran,” Defarges said. 

    “Of course, Iran is not a very nice country,” he added “but in a balance-of-power situation, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Which is the case when it comes to the Islamic State.” 

    You May Like

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: aysa from: Tokyo
    January 25, 2016 8:22 PM
    Mujahedeen of Iran that are opposition of Iranian government are a terrorist group even they kill some Americansn and Iraqi people and also support Saddam but Iranian people are the best people that I have seen until now.

    by: Stephen Real
    January 24, 2016 2:15 PM
    It would be nice to see President Rouhani
    open a new US Embassy in Tehran for the Iranian people.

    I like this guy a lot.
    He could change the world for the better.
    I hope he takes this so-called "chatter" for a US consulate attache in Tehran to the next level.

    by: Anonymous
    January 24, 2016 1:51 PM
    Iran: 80 millions people, ℅65 under 35, $150,000,000,000 to spend.

    Let's see if the US can understand why it needs to open business with Iran, too.

    by: Brian from: Canada
    January 24, 2016 1:46 PM
    Since the 'liberal' Rouhani took office as president of Iran there have been over 1,900 executions for such crimes as adultery, homosexuality, apostasy, and witchcraft. President Hassan Rouhani is little more than a brutal and blood thirsty thug who would never win in a free election in Iran. Iran under his dictatorial administration remains the single largest financier of terrorism in the world. Yet here we see European and US leaders willing to do business with this vile criminal.

    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    January 24, 2016 1:07 PM
    The islamic republic and islamic state, just a game of words on how much the quran rules the people, not self rule, the international norm.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora