France Rejects Criticism of Iran Business Trip

France’s Finance Minister says a 116-person delegation of business figures to Iran is “a bet” on the future.

Elad Benari ,

France's Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici
France's Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici

France’s Finance Minister rejected on Wednesday American criticism over a visit to Iran by a delegation of French business figures, AFP reports.

Pierre Moscovici said that the 116-person delegation is “a bet” on the future and not “business as usual.”

“It’s not about doing ‘business as usual’,” Moscovici told journalists at an entrepreneurs’ gathering in Paris, referring to an expression used by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when he phoned his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, 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 U.S. and EU sanctions.

Kerry told Fabius earlier Wednesday that the trip, even though organized 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: ‘fulfill 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,” he added, according to AFP.

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

Moscovici was essentially repeating comments he made on Sunday, when he said that France will have "significant commercial opportunities" in Iran if sanctions are lifted, but Tehran first has to prove its good faith in abiding by nuclear undertakings.

The French delegation is the latest in a string of foreign trade missions to beat a path to Tehran since the November deal and comes days after the agreement began to be implemented.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Saturday that his country had received the first installment of $4.2 billion in frozen assets as part of the nuclear deal.

Late last month, a large delegation from Turkey, headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited Iran.

During the trip, Erdogan said the neighboring countries aimed to more than double trade to $30 billion next year. He met with Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, and the two reportedly discussed establishing a high-level council of cooperation.