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After Nuclear Deal, European Businesses Flock To Iran


The Iran nuclear deal sparked furious debate here in the U.S., but it's been a lot less controversial in Europe. That's even the case in France which was especially tough in its demands for Iranian concessions. And as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, many European companies are already planning to rebuild their once profitable commercial links with Iran.


LAURENT FABIUS: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In a radio interview, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said he would be heading to Tehran next week.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: The radio host asked Fabius if French toughness in the talks would now hurt French companies wanting to do business in Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

FABIUS: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "No," said Fabius, "and because of our tough stance, we now have a robust, verifiable agreement. Iran cannot even think about making a nuclear bomb in the next 15 years." There's been no heated debate in France over the nuclear agreement with Iran. One reason is foreign affairs are the domain of the French president, not the parliament. And, says Thierry Coville with the International Strategic Research Institute, most people support the agreement.

THIERRY COVILLE: Most of the newspapers consider it's a good agreement and it's good for peace. But let's say you are some experts which are taking, you know, the Israeli line. They're criticizing Obama, but it's a minority in France.

BEARDSLEY: But what is on many French minds is Iran's vast oil and gas reserves and a market of 80 million potential customers. And France, along with other European countries, will be rushing to pick up where it left off before the sanctions began.

ARDAVAN AMIR-ASLANI: The French, prior to the sanctions being imposed on Iran, where substantially involved in the Iranian economy. They were particularly involved in the oil and gas sector.

BEARDSLEY: That's Ardavan Amir-Aslani, a Franco-Iranian lawyer who also writes about Iranian politics. France also had a big stake in Iran's automobile market. Iran was the second-largest market for French carmaker Peugeot until 2012. But both Peugeot and Renault-Nissan were forced to quit Iran to avoid breaking sanctions and being forced out of the U.S. market. Germany's vice chancellor is in Iran this week with a group of business executives. Amir-Aslani says Germany, once Iran's largest European trading partner, will be well-placed once sanctions are lifted.

AMIR-ASLANI: The Germans are coming from a better side because they never cut off from Iran. They were always present with multiple commercial attaches at the German embassy.

BEARDSLEY: Germany, France and the U.K. have created a business alliance to facilitate commerce between the EU and Iran. For American companies, it won't be so easy. Most U.S. sanctions against Iran are linked to issues of human rights and terrorism and are set to remain in place. But despite the European head start, Amir-Aslani believes the Americans will be the biggest winners in the end.

AMIR-ASLANI: The Iranians know that if this nuclear deal went through, it's not because of the French. It's solely because of the Americans. It's because of John Kerry and Obama. The Americans have been involved in Iran and have done whatever they could to bring back Iran, and the Iranians are grateful.

BEARDSLEY: But nobody should count on signing new business deals with Iran anytime soon. The agreement still needs the endorsement of Iran's supreme leader and a divided U.S. Congress and ratification by the U.N. Security Council. It's unlikely any sanctions will be lifted before 2016. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.