French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici in Paris on February 5, 2014
French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici in Paris on February 5, 2014 © Eric Piermont - AFP
French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici in Paris on February 5, 2014
Last updated: February 5, 2014

French minister hits back at US on Iran business ties

A visit to Iran by a 116-strong delegation of French business figures is "a bet" on the future and not "business as usual", France's finance minister said Wednesday, brushing off US criticism of the trip.

"It's not about doing 'business as usual'," Pierre Moscovici told journalists at an entrepreneurs' gathering in Paris, referring to an expression used by US Secretary of State John Kerry when he phoned his French counterpart to complain about the visit.

The French delegation, with representatives from major companies such as Total, Lafarge and Peugeot, is the largest of its kind from Europe since a landmark nuclear deal reached with the major powers in November gave Iran limited relief from crippling US and EU sanctions.

Kerry told French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that the trip -- even though organised through the private sector -- was "not helpful" in sending the message that "it is not business as usual" with Iran.

"It seems to me that the signal given by this visit is exactly the opposite, which is to say: 'fulfil your obligations and, if one day that happens, things will go well'," Moscovici said.

"One must definitely not take this as a sign of laxness or consent but as a bet on a future that rests on firmness and negotiation.

"If one day Iran changed its attitude then there would be, we know, significant commercial and economic opportunities for all countries."

The French delegation is the latest in a string of foreign trade missions to beat a path to Tehran since the November deal.

Late last month, a large delegation visited from fellow NATO member Turkey, headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the neighbouring countries aimed to more than double trade to $30 billion (22 billion euros) next year.

The November agreement between Iran and the P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany -- requires Iran to scale back its contested nuclear activities for limited sanctions relief.

The six-month accord, which took effect January 20, is aimed at buying time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that could see all sanctions lifted on the oil- and gas-rich Islamic republic.

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