The Latest: East-West contrasts in Iranian leader's visit

PARIS – The Latest on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Europe (all times local):

8:15 p.m.

The Iranian president’s visit to Paris has been rife with contrasts, from the headwear to the East-West tensions underpinning his discourse.

Hassan Rouhani’s white turban and flowing robes stood out against the angular uniforms and feathered helmets of Republican Guards in the Elysee Palace.

French President Francois Hollande, who’s often jocular, stood closed-lipped as he shook hands with a grinning Rouhani in the presidential courtyard.

At a meeting with executives, France’s firmly secular prime minister sat rigid on the stage as Rouhani opened his speech with the words, “In the name of God…”

And mealtimes were discreet for a man whose country bans alcohol as he visited a land that venerates wine.

Unlike in Rome, where zealous officials covered naked statues at a museum Rouhani visited, a couple of bare bodies surfaced during his Paris stay.

A topless protester, the Iranian flag painted across her chest, staged a mock hanging off a Paris bridge. And in the presidential palace, a fresco above the dais where Rouhani and Hollande spoke to reporters included a woman with one bared breast.


7:45 p.m.

France and Iran have signed a total of 20 agreements, including nine commercial deals, following the meeting between the presidents of the two countries, Francois Hollande and Hassan Rouhani.

French and Iranian companies signed a series of agreements Thursday in the sectors of air and maritime transport, airports, health and agriculture. Oil and gas company Total signed an agreement with the National Iranian Oil Company on purchases of crude oil.

The total value of the deals could reach up to 30 billion euros ($32.8 billion) — including the 22.8 billion euros ($25 billion) for the sale of 118 Airbus passenger aircraft to Iran Air, according to the French presidency.


5:45 p.m.

Iran Air has signed a deal to buy 118 aircraft from Airbus in the first of an expected host of commercial deals expected to be announced during the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Paris.

Rouhani and French President Francois Hollande are expected to oversee the signing of about 20 bilateral agreements.


3:55 p.m.

The Iranian president is meeting with his French counterpart at the Elysee palace.

Hassan Rouhani, smiling, walked across the Elysee courtyard in front of the Republican Guards to be formally welcomed by Francois Hollande.

The two heads of state are to discuss Iran’s role in peacemaking in the region, notably in Syria and Yemen, as well as other issues.

The meeting is scheduled to last for about two hours. Then Rouhani and Hollande are expected to oversee the signing of about 20 bilateral agreements.

They will give a joint news conference following their meeting.


2:55 p.m.

Iran’s president is highlighting his country’s experience hosting 3 million people fleeing neighbouring Afghanistan as an example for a Europe struggling to absorb migrants.

Hassan Rouhani, speaking at French think-tank IFRI on a trip to Paris, said “our nation has shouldered such a heavy weight through all these years, accepting 3 million migrants without complaining.”

As at least 1 million people fleeing war and poverty in Syria and elsewhere reached Europe last year, Rouhani said, “Europeans with all their economic power and resources were saying ‘100,000 migrants have arrived to our soil, what do we do now? 200,000 have swarmed (our borders), what do we do now?'”

He did not elaborate on how Iran handled the Afghan migrant influx, even as Iran’s economy struggled for years amid sanctions that were recently lifted.


12:45 p.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says successful negotiations over his country’s nuclear conflict with the West could serve as an example for solving multiple regional crises in the Middle East.

Rouhani, in a speech to French think-tank IFRI, said that for such diplomacy to work, both sides must “lower our pretensions.”

Speaking through a translator, he said “that allowed us to reach accords” on curbing Iran’s nuclear program and lifting sanctions. “Each side must feel it is a win-win agreement.”

He was responding to a question about how Iran can contribute to restoring order in Middle East.

Rouhani’s visit to Paris is focused on renewing trade ties, but France also wants to draw in Iran’s help in peacemaking in the region, notably in Syria and Yemen, and easing tensions with regional rival Saudi Arabia.


11:20 a.m.

A near-naked woman hanging from a noose-like rope from a Paris bridge has sent a message to visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“Welcome Rouhani, Executioner of Freedom,” read a huge banner across the pedestrian bridge over the Seine River near the Eiffel Tower. The protest Thursday by feminist group Femen is calling attention to the large number of executions in Iran.

Iran is one of the world’s largest users of the death penalty, ranking second behind China in 2014, according to Amnesty International. Most Iranian executions are linked to drug smuggling.

Sarah Constantin, the activist who hung from the bridge, said they organized the “public hanging” to call attention to those executed for political reasons and put pressure on French President Francois Hollande to bring up human rights in his meeting with Rouhani.


11:05 a.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country is “favourable terrain” for resumed trade between East and West, as he and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls pledged to turn the page on past tensions.

Rouhani is reaching out to European businesses on the first visit by an Iranian president to Europe since 1999.

Rouhani, speaking to French executives Thursday, urged efforts to unblock financing for resumed trade now that sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program have been lifted. Continued U.S. bank restrictions against Iran are a hurdle to many European countries seeking renewed commerce.

Rouhani praised France and said he wants to use the positive atmosphere after a landmark nuclear accord to boost ties.

Valls said the countries should forget past rancour. “France is available for Iran,” he said. “Iran can count on France.”


10:30 a.m.

France’s Peugeot-Citroen has announced a joint venture with automaker Iran Khodro to make 200,000 cars a year outside Tehran, as both countries seek to boost trade after the lifting of Western sanctions.

Carlos Tavares, chairman of the PSA Peugeot-Citroen managing board, announced the deal Thursday during a visit to France by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

It will be a 50-50 joint venture, aiming to produce three new models of cars starting late next year.

Peugeot was a major player in Iran’s car market before the sanctions were imposed, and the company said negotiations for this deal have been under way since before the sanctions were lifted.


9:00 a.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is being formally welcomed to France at the gold-domed Invalides monument where Napoleon is buried.

While Rouhani arrived in Paris on Wednesday from Rome, the official French government greeting ceremony is being held Thursday morning.

Rouhani is also meeting Thursday with the chief of UNESCO, the Paris-based U.N. cultural body, and speaking to high-level French executives whose companies are interested in resuming trade with his long-isolated nation of 80 million people.

Later he and French President Francois Hollande will oversee a ceremony for signing about 20 bilateral accords.

The trip is an effort to usher in a new era after a landmark accord to curb Iran’s nuclear program and lift Western sanctions. However, France is now weighing new sanctions over Iranian ballistic missile tests.