French foreign minister says will visit Iran 'next week'

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Paris (AFP) - France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday he would visit Iran "next week", after the historic deal on its nuclear programme, and expected to hold talks with President Hassan Rouhani.

Although Fabius did not provide more precise details, his aides told AFP that the trip would likely take place next Wednesday.

"I will be there next week," Fabius told French radio.

"My colleague (Mohammad Javad Zarif) invited me. I was invited before but didn't go, but now I think everything is in place for me to go." he said, adding that talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani "were expected."

"I find it completely normal that after this historic deal was signed, France and Iran should restart normal relations," Fabius stressed.

Fabius's trip will be hot on the heels of a similar visit from German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who was the first top Western official to visit the country since world powers and Tehran struck a nuclear deal after years of negotiations.

Gabriel, who is also Chancellor Angela Merkel's deputy and energy minister, embarked on a three-day trip with a small delegation of representatives from companies and industry groups.

Western powers and firms are seeking to take advantage of the long-delayed nuclear pact to get their feet in the door in Iran's economy.

France used to have a strong presence in Iran before the sanctions went into effect, with Peugeot and Renault being major players in the Iranian auto industry and energy giant Total heavily involved in the oil sector.

But two-way trade has fallen from four billion euros ($4.3 billion) in 2004 to just 500 million euros in 2013, according to French statistics.

The French employers' federation, MEDEF, is due to visit Iran in September to try to kickstart ties.

Some 107 representatives from the body travelled to Iran early last year, triggering anger in the US which said it was still too early to do business with Tehran.

Fabius, who was seen to have taken a hawkish role in the negotiations, denied that French firms could suffer from this.

"We used to have a significant presence that was completely satisfactory for the Iranians ... and in diplomatic life, like in life in general, you never lose anything by being respected," he said.

He hailed last Tuesday's deal as "the most important diplomatic deal for a very long time."

The agreement aims to roll back Tehran's nuclear programme in return for lifting sanctions that have stunted Iran's economy.

On Monday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing the deal, clearing a path to lift sanctions crippling its economy.

In addition to opening up trade, the agreement has been touted as a chance for greater contact between Iran and the leading nations over common interests, particularly on tackling the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.