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After Lifting Of Sanctions, Iran's President Brings Trade Mission To France


Fresh from the lifting of international sanctions, Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, is on a trade mission to Europe. Today, he's in France where he's been shopping for cars, planes and other goods. We're going to hear now from a French-Iranian lawyer who's been representing French companies in their negotiations with Iran, Ardavan Amir-Aslani. Mr. Amir-Aslani, welcome to the program.

ARDAVAN AMIR-ASLANI: Thank you very much. Thank you for having.

SIEGEL: And let's talk first about cars. Peugeot evidently plans to start manufacturing 200,000 cars a year near Tehran. How important is the Iranian market to Peugeot?

AMIR-ASLANI: It is an important. As a matter of fact, prior to the sanctions being imposed upon Iran in relation to the nuclear quest of this country, Peugeot was massively involved in Iran. It was the second-largest market.

SIEGEL: How long ago did they leave?

AMIR-ASLANI: They were out since 2012.

SIEGEL: So I assume that the commercial infrastructure, to resume business, is pretty well still there in Iran.

AMIR-ASLANI: I don't think that one can talk about commercial infrastructure in Iran. As a matter of fact, doing business with Iran is still extremely difficult. We should remember that only nuclear-related sections have been removed. All U.S. sanctions for terrorism, for human rights issues are still in place, which basically forbids all U.S. persons, whether entities or individuals, based in the United States from getting involved in Iran.

This has, also, an impact on the banking sector because, you know, French banks are very weary of getting involved in Iran. They're scared of American sanctions. I mean, they have been strong hit by the United States. BNP Paribas, the - France's largest bank had to pay $9 billion penalty for its involvement with Iran. So although the sanctions have been removed, French banks and European banks in general are very hesitant in relation to the Iranian market.

SIEGEL: The nuclear agreement with Iran provides for a re-imposition of sanctions if Iran commits violations. Do the deals that are being discussed - do these strike you as arrangements that the French would be willing to pull away from if there were such a violation?

AMIR-ASLANI: They have to, of course, take this into consideration. If the snapback clause were to be enforced, this would imply that this would have to stop until sanctions are removed again. So it is an issue.

The Iranians, from an ideological point of view, do not want any references to sanctions made in the contractual framework. So what everybody is trying to understand is how they can (unintelligible) this issue. And there is belief that the notion of force majeure - legal term - it talks about acts of God, such as, you know, earthquakes and that kind of stuff - may cover this eventuality.

SIEGEL: Is this a huge breakthrough day for business between Iran and France, or is this an expression of intentions but there are so many obstacles in front of the two countries that it's possible little will come of it?

AMIR-ASLANI: No. There are obstacles out there, and the obstacles are quite substantial. But this is the first time ever that the current Iranian president has traveled to Europe. A couple of months ago, it was basically out of the question for any French company to sign any kind of a contract with Iran because of the sanctions. Now here he is, back in town, signing deals with Airbus, the largest European aircraft manufacturing company, with Vinci SA (ph), the largest construction company in the world. It's going to be a landmark event. It's going to milestone as far as the regions of Iran and Europe are concerned.

SIEGEL: Are the French confident that it's really Mr. Rouhani who calls the shots here and that they can do business with Iran without having an understanding with the supreme leader who really seems to run things in Iran?

AMIR-ASLANI: The French, as well as everybody else in Europe, understands that genuine power and authority and absolute authority and absolute veto power - whatever decision the Iranian government's going to make resides solely with the supreme leader. But they also know the supreme leader. But they also know that a supreme leader is behind Rouhani and his reforming moderate campaign. At the end of the day, everyone is making the bet that all the centers of power in Iran are behind the current government of Rouhani because without him being able to open up the country, basically speaking, the regime is doomed.

SIEGEL: Mr. Amir-Aslani, thank you very much for talking with us.

AMIR-ASLANI: Thank you for having had me.

SIEGEL: That's Ardavan Amir-Aslani. He's a Franco-Iranian lawyer who represents French companies turning to Iran. He spoke with us from Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.