Wednesday, August 26, 2015

European companies beat US to Iran business after nuclear deal reached

    Wednesday, August 26, 2015   No comments

The ink was barely dry on the agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear programme before a German government plane packed with the nation’s economic elite touched down in Tehran.

The trip was the first in a rush of European ministers and business people flocking to a market poised to reopen after years of grinding sanctions. Upscale Tehran hotels are packed and tables at trendy restaurants are scarce as foreigners jostle for bargains, even amid uncertainty over whether President Obama can overcome US congressional opposition to the deal.

The stream of visitors to Tehran is the latest sign of the Atlantic-wide divide between the US and Europe, where there is scant opposition to the pact that aims to crimp Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Barack Obama and secretary of state John Kerry have warned detractors that they would be unable to reimpose a multinational trade embargo if congress rejects the plans. The other five countries that helped broker the deal have also told congress they will not return to the negotiating table. The trips show that US leaders can’t keep Europeans from flying to Tehran ahead of the congressional vote, which must take place by 17 September.

“We are talking here about 80 million people who need energy supplies, who naturally also need healthcare, who want to get back off their knees in the oil and gas businesses. There are opportunities and chances,” Joe Kaeser, chief executive of Siemens, the German industrial conglomerate, told German television last month.

Siemens sent a top official to Tehran with the German vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, last month. Their government plane touched down at the Imam Khomeini international airport five days after world powers agreed on the nuclear deal on 14 July. “The agreement reached between the E3/EU+3 and Iran in Vienna has laid the foundations for a normalisation of economic relations with Iran,” Gabriel said, using another term for the group of six world powers that negotiated the deal. The vice chancellor was accompanied by a delegation of top officials from some of Germany’s largest companies, including Daimler, Volkswagen and ThyssenKrupp.

Since Gabriel’s visit, top ministers from France and Italy have visited Tehran. British foreign secretary Philip Hammond was there last weekend to reopen his nation’s embassy. Spain, Sweden and Poland plan to follow in the autumn. Next month Austrian president Heinz Fischer plans to be the first European head of state to visit Tehran since 2004. Vienna hosted an EU-Iran trade conference just a week after the deal was signed.


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