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Car-making Deals, Protests Greet Iranian President in Paris

By on January 28, 2016

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, left, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani inspect the honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Invalides in Paris, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, left, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani inspect the honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Invalides in Paris, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

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 crippled by decades of sanctions over its nuclear activities.

Rouhani, whose visit was also met with protests, decried the sanctions, saying history has shown that they “never worked” and 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.

“Today, we must use the positive atmosphere for a new elan,” he told a group of French business leaders.

About 20 agreements will be signed after a meeting between Rouhani and President Francois Hollande. PSA Peugeot Citroen announced a joint venture with Iran Khodro to produce latest-generation vehicles in Tehran by the end of 2017.

France rolled out military honors at the site of Napoleon’s tomb for the Iranian leader at the start of his second and final day in France in an otherwise low-key visit.

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

France has asked its European Union partners to consider new sanctions on Iran for its recent ballistic missile tests, officials have told The Associated Press. That highlights continued suspicions between Iran and the West despite the recent agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program and the lifting of earlier sanctions.

EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Catherine Ray told reporters in Brussels on Thursday that “such a request was never submitted to the EU and it was not discussed” at the latest EU foreign ministers meeting. However, such diplomatic proposals are normally broached first on an informal level among EU partners, and then go through a bureaucratic process before being formally tabled at EU-wide meetings.

Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, with headquarters outside Paris, held a demonstration, and 61 lawmakers signed an open letter to Hollande, condemning Iran’s human rights record, with executions on the rise, and what it called its “strategy of chaos” in the Middle East.

An activist hung from a fake noose off a Paris bridge next to a huge banner reading “Welcome Rouhani, Executioner of Freedom.”

France see 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.

At the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), Rouhani said the means used to resolve the nuclear conflict can serve as an example for resolving conflicts.

“We (everyone) can lower our pretensions,” as each side did in the nuclear talks, he said. “This allowed us to reach accords.”

“Each side must feel it is a win-win agreement,” he added, without clarifying who he was referring to.

He also took digs at the West, notably regarding the migrant crisis.

“Europeans with all their economic power and resources were saying ‘100,000 migrants have arrived to our soil, what do we do now? 200,000 have swarmed (our borders) what do we do now?'”

Iran, he said, is hosting 3 million Afghans “without complaining.”

Rouhani arrived in Paris on Wednesday from Italy, where billions of euros’ worth of trade deals were reached.

Rouhani, who first traveled to Italy, was on a mission to improve Iran’s battered economy after years of isolation for his country of 80 million people. It was the first trip to either country by an Iranian leader since 1999.

Rouhani said his country is “favorable terrain” for resumed trade between East and West.

“We must go beyond those wounds” caused by sanctions, Peugeot Chairman Carlos Tavares said at a news conference. He said that Iran carries risks, but “the biggest risk for us is the status quo.”

Rouhani’s trip was originally scheduled to visit Paris in November, but the trip was called off after Islamic extremists carried out attacks around Paris that killed 130 people.

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