Rowhani says no problem with U.S. firms entering Iran

The fall in oil prices has put pressure on Iran, but there is also opportunity, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said on Tuesday

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Iran has no problem with U.S. companies investing in its economy and creating joint ventures, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said in a televised interview on Tuesday in which he urged foreign investment and diversification away from oil.

Major international companies are rushing to establish a position in Iran as it re-opens for business after the lifting of sanctions over its nuclear program. But U.S. companies have held back due to separate U.S. sanctions that remain in place.

“If U.S. companies are willing to come and invest in Iran, to bring manufacturing to Iran, we have no problem with that," Rowhani said in footage aired on state TV.

The president also said he would do everything he could to ensure free and fair elections later this month, heralding a potential clash with a hardline establishment that has barred large numbers of candidates from standing.

Rowhani said Iran has changed its economic strategy and was open to foreign investment as a way to diversify its economy.

“Our strategy is no longer one of the past - to sell oil and import end products - but rather to attract foreign investment in order to form JVs (joint ventures),” he was quoted as saying on his English language Twitter account.

The fall in global oil prices has put pressure on Iran but there is also reason to be positive, he said.

“We can see an opportunity,” he said in the TV interview, adding the economy should look to other industries for revenue.

“Even if the oil price rises, we should rely more on non-oil exports.”

Citing the country’s supreme leader, who outranks the president and has the final say on all matters of state, he said most of Iran's problems were internal and not caused by sanctions.

“The leader said sanctions caused 40 percent of the country’s problems: 60 percent of our problems are not related to sanctions, they are related to our own internal problems.”

Rowhani also took a swipe at the Guardian Council, a hardline vetting body of clerics and jurists that has excluded large numbers of candidates from two important elections on Feb. 26. He said he would do everything in his power to ensure a free and fair vote.

“There should be no doubts in anyone’s mind about these elections, and we must all work actively towards that,” he said.

Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an ally of Rowhani, also criticized the council this week.

Rowhani said Iran should develop its local industries, such as producing cars of an international standard and exporting them to foreign markets.

“In terms of cars, we must be world class, we must export cars; the recent contracts signed in France involve investment in Iran and manufacturing cars inside the country, and cars will be exported,” he said.

He also said Iran’s tourism industry could be as strong as France’s and that his country needed 8 percent economic growth in order to deal with inflation and unemployment.

“Iran has so much to offer the world as a top tourist destination; hence investment in aviation, hotels and railways is more important than ever,” he was cited as saying on the Twitter account.