Balancing Iran’s increasingly closer ties with Russia and China, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is touring Europe to drum up as much renewed business with the West as he can now that his country is free of crippling sanctions.
On Friday, Iran and Greece signed what is described as a “long-term agreement” for Hellenic Petroleum, the country’s largest oil-refining company, to resume buying Iranian crude. Three days later Rouhani, leading a delegation of 120 Iranian ministers and business leaders, renewed business ties with Italy.
In Rome, Saipem, a subsidiary of the Italian energy major Eni, signed 13 memorandums of understanding that include “potential cooperation on major projects in Iran” with the Parsian Oil & Gas Development Co. According to Shana, the news service of Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum, this would entail making improvements to Iran’s Pars Shiraz and Tabriz refineries. Shana also cited “unconfirmed media reports” that Saipem and Iran were considering collaborating on the construction of a pipeline worth at least $4.3 billion.
Present at Monday’s signing were Rouhani and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, as well as Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh.
All told, Italy and Iran were expected to sign deals worth as much as $18.4 billion involving not only energy but also Iranian infrastructure and shipbuilding, according to an anonymous source in the Italian government cited by Reuters.
“This is just the beginning of a journey,” Renzi said at the signing ceremony. “There are sectors where we must work closer together.”
The Italian leader said he expects the meeting also will go a long way toward Iran’s joint fight with the West against the militant group Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS and Daesh, which has been creating chaos in the Middle East and North Africa.
“I am sure this visit will be a fundamental part of our ability to overcome together the challenge of fighting terrorism, atrocity and evil that we all have to confront together,” Renzi said.
Rouhani agreed. He had planned to visit Europe in November to set up deals that he’d hoped to be able to close once the sanctions were lifted, but postponed the tour after the Islamic State attack in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people.
“We have always been in the front line against terrorism,” he said. “We have to continue [cooperating with Italy] to secure a genuine peace in Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Libya.”
Yet many Western nations, particularly the United States and France, remain leery of Iran’s pledges to fight terrorism and defend human rights. Nevertheless, European countries are eager to resume commercial ties with Tehran in efforts to revive their lagging economies.
Rouhani too is eager to demonstrate that the deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of many Western sanctions, which is opposed by many Iranian hard-liners, is good for Iran because it could lead to a boost in Iran’s economy as well. Rouhani has long argued that renewed trade with the West will help it secure technologies that aren’t available elsewhere, such as Russia and China.
By Andy Tully