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    France annouces business deals with Iran

    PARIS, Feb 3 (AFP) - France and Iran, breathing new life into bilateral ties, on Wednesday announced new business deals in the offing while striking a series of cultural and diplomatic agreements.

    The announcements came during a meeting to France by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Khatazi, Tehran's first foreign minister in eight years to pay a "working visit" to France.

    The visit "marks a new stage in the consolidation of our relations," his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine said at a joint news conference held after two rounds of talks between the pair.

    Vedrine visited Tehran last August to resume dialogue with Iran, broken off during a year due to friction with European Union nations.

    "Prospects for the future are totally open and positive," Vedrine said, adding that contracts between the two countries were in the pipeline and should "materialise very rapidly".

    He refused details on the deals but Kharazi said separately that talks with the French oil group Elf-Aquitaine were under way and should "be concluded swiftly."

    Kharazi also told reporters that "several contracts should be concluded before the visit to Paris next spring of the Iranian head of state, Mohammad Khatami."

    Iran said last month that Khatami's planned visits to first Italy and then France -- the first by an Iranian head of state to EU nations since the 1979 Islamic revolution -- were scheduled for after the Iranian new year starting March 21, but that no date had been set.

    Kharazi is to discuss preparations for Khatami's rare foray abroad during talks later Wednesday with President Jacques Chirac.

    France, which is Iran's fifth trading partner after Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Japan and Italy, sees "many potential areas of (economic) cooperation", Vedrine said.

    "There is a joint will to develop them," he added.

    Kharazi also met Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn to discuss ways of increasing economic cooperation with France, largely focussed on oil imports for the moment.

    French oil group Total in 1995 signed a contract to develop two oilfields, Sirri A and E, in the Gulf, close to Dubai's territorial waters, for a total investment of around 660 million dollars.

    It is negotiating developing Sirri C and D, which would make it the dominant player over the whole project and would optimise the use of its facilities on Sirri Island.

    Meanwhile the two countries Wednesday agreed to ease visas for citizens from both countries while also announcing Iran's agreement in principle to allow the opening of a French teaching centre in Tehran in around six months.

    France in exchange will allow the Iranian cultural centre in Paris to develop its scientific activities and open a centre for teaching Farsi.


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