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Europe, Iran usher in new era of relations

Elaine Ganley
Associated Press

Paris – — France’s government welcomed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday with promises of a new beginning in an old relationship, starting with investments to boost Iran’s flagging economy that has been crippled by decades of sanctions.

“It’s a new chapter of our relationship,” French president Francois Hollande said in a joint news conference following a two-hour meeting with Rouhani at the Elysee palace. “I want that relationship to be useful, useful to both countries, useful to the (Middle East) region affected by wars, crises and tragedies.”

Hollande added that he raised the issue of human rights and freedom during the meeting.

France sees the visit also as an opportunity to draw Iran into a role of crisis-solving, notably in Syria’s civil war where Iran actively supports the government of President Bashar Assad, which Paris firmly opposes.

“We must fight terrorism” in Syria and Iraq, Rouhani said during the joint conference. “We must help the Syrian people so that the Syrian people can build a sustainable future for the country,” he said.

Rouhani decried the sanctions his country was previously under, saying history has shown that they “never worked.” He said the nuclear deal that led to the lifting of sanctions this month can serve as a model for solutions in other crises, notably in the Middle East.

A total of 20 agreements were signed after Rouhani’s meeting with Hollande.

Iran Air signed a deal to buy 118 aircraft from Airbus, valued at $25 billion. PSA Peugeot Citroen also announced a joint venture with Iran Khodro to produce latest-generation vehicles in Tehran by the end of 2017.

French and Iranian companies also signed agreements in the sectors of air and maritime transport, airports, health and agriculture. Oil and gas company Total inked a deal with the National Iranian Oil Company to purchase crude oil.

The French presidency said the total amount of the deals signed during Rouhani’s visit, including Airbus, could reach up to $32.8 billion.

The historic outreach trip did face some strains, however, in a reminder of the complexities confronting all sides despite the French welcome mat.