Paris: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in France today for an official visit during which he is expected to sign a host of commercial deals.
The visit, the first to France by an Iranian president since 1999, is the second leg of a trip signalling Tehran’s rapprochement with Europe after sanctions were lifted against the Islamic Republic.
Rouhani flew in from Italy, where he sealed industrial deals worth between 15 billion euros and 17 billion euros.
Even before he touched down in France, the Iranian transport minister said a deal would be rubber-stamped to buy 114 passenger planes from Airbus.
Rouhani will also ink a deal signalling the return of French carmaker Peugeot to Iran, in partnership with Iranian manufacturer Khodro, according to a French government source.
Peugeot will produce 200,000 vehicles a year beginning in 2017.
When Peugeot pulled out of Iran in 2012 under the weight of the Western sanctions over the country’s nuclear programme, it was the maker’s second biggest market after France.
In another potential business bonanza, French oil giant Total is said to be interested in buying Iranian crude.
Rouhani will have talks with President Francois Hollande and they will hold a joint press conference which is expected to touch on Iran’s bitter feud with Saudi Arabia.
The visit had originally been scheduled to take place after the November 13 jihadist attacks on Paris, but was postponed.
The Iranian opposition is expected to hold a human rights demonstration in Paris to coincide with his visit.
At a press conference rounding off his Rome visit, Rouhani was defiant when asked whether Iran would apologise to Saudi Arabia for an attack on its embassy by demonstrators furious over Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
It is not up to Iran to make a move towards reconciliation in a crisis that has seen Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran, he said.
“Why should we apologise, because (activist and Shiite cleric) Nimr al-Nimr was executed? We are the ones to apologise because they are killing the people of Yemen? Apologise to them because they are helping terrorists?” he asked.
“They are the ones who should apologise to Muslim people, hundreds of times.”
Rouhani, a 67-year-old former academic and diplomat who is seen as a pragmatist, was elected in 2013 on a pledge to end sanctions and improve relations with the West.