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Photograph: Hina/ Tomislav Pavlek/tp

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic will pay a three-day official visit to Iran next week to meet with the country's senior officials for talks on promoting economic relations between the two countries.

The visit of the Croatian head of state from May 17 to 19 will be the first high-level meeting between the two countries after UN sanctions on Iran were lifted in January following a nuclear accord with the Western powers.

The focus will be on developing economic relations which have been virtually non-existent over the last decade. The culmination of the visit will be on Wednesday when the Croatian president is scheduled to meet separately with Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. An Iranian-Croatian economic forum is also scheduled for the same day.

Grabar-Kitarovic will be accompanied by a business delegation organised by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK). The delegation will include representatives of about 60 companies, including Koncar Electrical Industries and the INA oil and gas company which were present in Iran before, and new companies trying to enter that large market of 80 million inhabitants. It will be one of the largest delegations to accompany the President abroad this year, which shows the importance which Croatia attaches to the visit.

"After the lifting of UN sanctions on Iran, all major global players are trying to return to the Iranian market," a source from the Office of the Croatian President told a press briefing ahead of the visit.

"The main purpose of the visit is to restore substance to Croatian-Iranian relations, which are traditionally good and friendly," the source said, recalling that a number of Croatian companies had operated on the Iranian market before the sanctions. "Our interest is that they return and that new ones also establish their presence there."

The Croatian delegation will also include Economy Minister Tomislav Panenic and Entrepreneurship and Crafts Minister Darko Horvat. An agreement on economic cooperation between Iran and Croatia and an agreement on cooperation between the two countries' chambers of commerce are expected to be signed.

"Iran represents great potential," the source said, noting that due to the UN sanctions annual trade between the two countries was a "negligible" 4 million euros. "This visit is an opportunity to increase raise our trade."

Although the focus of the visit will be on economic relations, its political dimension should not be ignored, another source at the President's Office said. "From a problematic country Iran has become a country of paramount importance for resolving international crises in the Middle East and Central Asia. There has been a dramatic change after the signing of the nuclear agreement," the source said. "Everyone in the world is now trying to get to Iran, and this dimension of the visit is a mark of great recognition for Croatia. Their message is very friendly," it added.

The Croatian president will also be accompanied by the head of the Islamic community in Croatia, Mufti of Zagreb Aziz Hasanovic, and HGK Chairman Luka Burilovic.

Grabar-Kitarovic is also due to meet with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the former President and Chairman of the very influential Expediency Discernment Council, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

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