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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    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.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora