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    Italian foreign trade minister in Iran to drum up business

    TEHRAN, Oct 6 (AFP) - Italian Foreign Trade Minister Augusto Fantozzi is in Tehran to discuss developing economic ties as relations between Iran and its second-largest European trading partner continue to expand.

    Fantozzi, who arrived here Monday night, is scheduled to meet First Vice President Hassan Habibi and take part in a seminar on the outlook for Italian industry in Iran, diplomats said Tuesday.

    He is not the only Italian official to have beaten a path to Iran in recent days. Giorgio Fossa, president of the employers' association Cofindustria, arrived in Tehran Sunday with a delegation of 120 business executives representing 80 Italian companies.

    Italy has been working to step up its political and economic presence in Iran for several months.

    As Fantozzi and Fossi make the rounds in Tehran, Iranian parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, leader of the body's conservatives, is paying an official visit to Rome, the first by an Iranian holding this office in 20 years.

    Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi made an official visit to Iran at the end of June, one of the few by a Western leader since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

    At the end of September, the Banca Commerciale Italiana announced that it was opening a medium- and long-term billion-dollar line of credit for Iran, with another 120 million dollars in short-term credit.

    Italian industries are especially interested in Iran's petrochemical, telecommunications and metallurgy sectors and in trade between small- and medium-sized enterprises. Italy is Iran's second largest European trading partner after Germany.

    Trade between Rome and Tehran came to more than 2.6 billion dollars in 1997. Italian exports to Iran were valued at 870 million dollars while the country imported 1.8 billion dollars in goods, mainly oil products.


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