Rouhani hails 'new chapter' in Iranian-French ties

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Media captionPresident Hassan Rouhani: "We would like to resume those ties and then in a way to compensate for the past"

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has hailed "a new chapter" in French-Iranian relations during his visit to Paris to discuss trade ties.

Mr Rouhani agreed a number of major deals, including a €22bn ($24bn; £17bn) contract to buy 118 Airbus planes.

Earlier, French carmaker Peugeot said it had agreed a joint venture in Iran worth €400m.

Mr Rouhani's Europe tour comes after the lifting of international sanctions over Iran's nuclear programme.

Mr Rouhani's five-day visit to Italy and France is the first by an Iranian president in nearly two decades.

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

'Seduced by Iran'

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Image caption French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (left) and President Hassan Rouhani were greeted by a military band
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Rouhani (left) and Mr Hollande (2nd right) attended a ceremony, where a number of contracts were signed

The Iranian president was received at a welcome ceremony on Thursday at the Invalides monument in Paris.

Mr Rouhani said: "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.

Analysis: BBC's Lucy Williamson, Paris

It was an august setting to begin a new relationship.

In the sombre courtyard of the Invalides they walked together, two small figures against the expanse of stone and history. Black robes and tailored coat, side by side before the military band.

But the symbolism of this relationship is, for now, less important than the opportunities it offers. With European companies lining up for a share in the Iranian market, President Rouhani is marking his return from isolation with a shopping trip.

Top of his list in France is planes - badly needed to restore Iran's crumbling commercial aviation industry - and the resurrection of a joint-venture between French and Iranian carmakers.

Political locks may be harder to unpick. Iranian memories are full of French support for Arab nations - including Tehran's arch-enemy in the Iran-Iraq war - and more recently of France's tough stance during the nuclear negotiations last year.

Both sides have said they want to begin a new chapter, and President Hollande is keen to talk to Mr Rouhani about the conflict in Syria, which the two leaders see very differently.

But when it comes to compromise, the boundaries are - for now - clearly drawn. Reports that the Iranian delegation requested all wine be removed from the table during President Rouhani's state reception were met with a polite invitation to meet Mr Hollande after lunch..

All new relationships have their awkward moments. This one at least contains a helpful lesson for their future relations: neither country enjoys deferring to outsiders.

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Image caption Mr Rouhani met several business leaders, including the CEO of Airbus Thomas Enders (left)
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Image caption Supporters of an Iranian dissident group called MEK protested against Mr Rouhani's visit

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the two countries were "being reunited".

"France has for a long time turned itself towards Iran, fascinated by its history, attracted by its culture, seduced by this great nation which is so incomparable," he said.

Mr Rouhani later held talks with his French counterpart Francois Hollande, and both leaders attended a ceremony where business deals were signed.

Mr Hollande stressed that the new relationship with Iran depended on Tehran keeping to the commitments it made in last month's international nuclear deal.

"Each stakeholder has got to respect their commitments. Therefore we must be able to ensure with all due attention that what was agreed can be realised. And that's a condition for everything."

Mr Rouhani insisted that his country would meet its obligations.

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Image caption An activist suspended herself from a bridge to protest against executions in Iran

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

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

Meanwhile, Peugeot said it had signed a joint venue with local carmaker Khodro to manufacture cars in Iran.

Oil firm Total and rail company SNCF also announced deals with Iran.

Mr Rouhani's visit also sparked protests from activists over Iran's human rights record, and use of the death penalty.

One woman suspended herself from a bridge near the Eiffel Tower, with a banner reading: "Welcome Rouhani, executioner of freedom".