Rouhani on 1st Post-Sanctions European Tour

Rouhani on 1st  Post-Sanctions  European TourRouhani on 1st  Post-Sanctions  European Tour

President Hassan Rouhani is to visit Italy and France this week to help boost economic ties, in his first European tour since a nuclear deal saw sanctions lifted against the Islamic Republic.

The visit had been planned for last November but was canceled after deadly attacks by the self-styled Islamic State militant group in Paris.

The Monday-Wednesday tour takes place a week after the July nuclear deal with world powers came into force, allowing the United States and the European Union to lift economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran curbing its nuclear activities.

Iran will seek to restore its economic relations with Rome and Paris, which were among Tehran's main economic partners before the tightening of international sanctions in January 2012.

Heading a high-powered political and business delegation, Rouhani is to meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi today, before speaking at an economic forum, AFP reported.

The moderate cleric is also to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican, in the first official visit of an Iranian president there since reformist president Mohammad Khatami in 1999.

Since 2012, trade between Iran and Italy has slumped from around $7.6 billion.

Now that sanctions have been lifted, Italian businessmen are eager to renew ties.

Italy's Deputy Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda in November visited Tehran with representatives of 178 companies and 12 banking groups.

After Italy, Rouhani will travel to France to meet French President Francois Hollande.

In Iran's booming automobile sector, French carmakers Renault and Peugeot hope to regain their pre-sanctions 30% share of the market. But they face competition from German, South Korean, Chinese and Japanese manufacturers.

Iran manufactures more than 1.1 million vehicles a year but hopes to increase production to 1.6 million in 2016 and 3 million in future, in collaboration with European and Asian carmakers.

"We will discuss Peugeot during the visit," the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.

The rate of car ownership in Iran is just 100 per 1,000 people—six times less than in Europe—and consumers have had limited access to new vehicles under western sanctions.

Renault has already negotiated a minority stake in Iranian auto manufacturer Pars Khodro, according to Iranian officials.