Big French firms flock to Iran for business

U.S. warns foreign companies that doing business with Iran is still ‘perilous’

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A delegation of several major French firms will visit Iran next month to explore business opportunities in the Islamic Republic following recent thaw in relations between Tehran and Western powers.

The visit is set to take place Feb. 2-5, Pierre Gattaz, president of the French Medef bosses’ association, the organizer of the visit, told a news conference on Wednesday.

An easing of trade and reduced restrictions triggered the interest of some of France’s biggest companies keen on restarting formerly vibrant business in Iran, as international sanctions are set to ease on the country after a nuclear deal Tehran struck with Western powers.

The French plan was followed by U.S. warning that Iran is still a "perilous" place for foreign companies to do business because of sanctions unaffected by the recent interim nuclear deal, a senior U.S. administration official said during a visit to Rome.

The six-month agreement only provides for the easing of limited sanctions and the unblocking of some frozen Iranian assets abroad and foreign firms should not "over-interpret" its scope, the official said, according to AFP.

"Businesses need to take into account the legal and reputational risk of doing business with Iran", he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official added that Italy had been identified by Washington as one of the countries with historic and current trade ties with Iran and pointed out that Tehran saw Italy as a possible "gateway" to Europe.

Italian oil major ENI, along with other foreign oil firms, should "convey to their partners in the oil sector that they are not going in now," he said.

Under the nuclear deal made last year with the United States, France, Russia, Britain, China, and Germany, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activity in return of relaxed sanctions, especially the crippling economic ones that that effected Tehran most.

French companies that were operating in Iran before the sanctions ban wanted to return and revive their businesses, Francois Nicoullaud, former French ambassador to Iran, told Reuters citing Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Airbus Group, Credit Agricole, Societe Generale and BNP Paribas.

Renault and Peugeot already sent executives to Iran during an automotive conference last year.

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