France welcomes Iranian leader Rouhani

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (L) walks next to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (3rd L) during a welcoming ceremony on January 28, 2016 at the Invalides in Paris.Image copyright

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French Foreign Minister Laurence Fabius (left) and President Hassan Rouhani were greeted by a military band

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is being received in France on the latest leg of his tour to relaunch trade relations with Europe.

Mr Rouhani hopes to secure valuable trade deals following the lifting of international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Among them is an expected agreement with French aircraft manufacturer Airbus for more than 100 new planes.

Mr Rouhani will also meet French President Francois Hollande.

The Iranian president was greeted by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during a welcome ceremony on Thursday at the Invalides monument in Paris.

Mr Rouhani said both France and Iran were “prepared to open a new chapter”.

“The time is ripe for both countries to enhance their relations.

“Diplomacy at the negotiating table can be quite effective – it can through logic and prudence… resolve problems,” he said. “Today we should make use of the post-sanctions era.”

His five-day visit to Italy and France is the first by an Iranian president in nearly two decades, as Mr Rouhani seeks to rebuild economic ties and secure new trade deals.

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President Rouhani held talks with French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron (front right) on Wednesday

Iran is likely to need hundreds of new aircraft in the coming years as it re-establishes commercial air travel restricted by the sanctions.

Iranian state TV said that as part of the deal with Airbus, 100 planes would be delivered to Iran over four years.

Meanwhile, French manufacturer Peugeot would return to Iran in a joint deal with a local carmaker worth 400m euros ($436m), AFP news agency reported.

Pierre Gattaz, head of France’s Medef employers association, said he also expected deals to be signed with French railway operator SNCF, and aluminium company Fives.

“Iranians need everything. The country is not starting from scratch, it’s got a very educated workforce, a real development potential,” Mr Gattaz told reports.

Nudes hidden

In Italy, Mr Rouhani met Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Pope Francis. Monday saw contracts worth about €17bn ($18.4bn; £12bn) signed between Iranian and Italian companies.

At Rome’s Capitoline Museum, where Mr Rouhani and Mr Renzi met, nude statues were covered up and wine was removed from official menus out of respect for the Islamic Republic’s strict laws governing propriety.

But the move to cover the statues angered Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who labelled it “incomprehensible”. He said neither he nor Mr Renzi had been informed of the decision.

The big cover-up – Nicholas Niksadat in Rome

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Mr Renzi has blamed an ”excess of zeal” but it is not without precedent: another nude statue was covered last year while the UAE’s Crown Prince was hosted in Florence.

The choice of the Capitoline museum in Rome had been meant to highlight the ancient links between two ”superpowers of beauty and culture”. Now the prime minister has been summoned to explain himself in parliament.

All this came before a Senate debate on granting legal recognition to civil unions including gay couples. Critics are asking why Italy overlooked the persecution of homosexuals in Iran if the Iranians could not get over Italy’s wine and statues.

Iranian diplomats also reportedly requested that no wine be served at Mr Rouhani’s lunch meeting with Mr Hollande, leading French officials to postpone the meeting until after lunch.

During his meeting with Mr Rouhani, Pope Francis urged Iran to work with other Middle Eastern countries against terrorism and arms trafficking, the Vatican said.

Iran has been accused of funding militant groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Mr Rouhani asked the pontiff to pray for him, and gave him the gift of a hand-made carpet.

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