Iranian President Hassan Rwohani.jpg
Photograph: EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH

Billions of dollars worth of aircraft, oil, and car manufacturing deals were signed Thursday during a visit from Iranian President Hassan Rowhani to France, marking thawing relations between Europe and the long-isolated country.

An Iran Air deal to purchase 118 Airbus jets was worth an estimated 27 billion dollars, according to list prices, as the country plans to revitalize its travel sector. The move is part of an effort to renew Iran's international presence after a nuclear accord was struck in July with six global powers and nearly a decade of sanctions were lifted.

"Thanks to the nuclear agreement, we can open a new chapter," said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. "France would like to renew its ties with Iran as an ambitious partner."

Rowhani spent the day meeting with high-level business executives before sitting down with French President Francois Hollande to oversee the signing of some 20 bilateral agreements related to health, agriculture and transportation.

The deals came just after Rowhani signed another slew of agreements worth 15-17 billion euros (16.4-18.6 billion dollars) during the first leg of his Europe tour to Rome, Italy, according to Iran's ISNA news agency.

In France, PSA Peugeot Citroen announced a 400-million-euro joint venture agreement with manufacturer Iran Khodro to bolster research and production, including an industrial site in Tehran.

The French automobile manufacturer said it plans to produce the first cars in Tehran in 2017, with the expectation that the Iranian market will grow to 2 million vehicles per year by 2022.

French oil and gas company Total also said it signed an agreement with the National Iranian Oil Company to purchase crude oil, without giving details. French media cited Total chief executive Patrick Pouyanne saying the deal would allow for the import of between 150,000 and 200,000 barrels of crude per day.

During Rowhani's visit with Hollande, the two leaders also discussed the political aspects of their newfound cooperation. Both leaders called for countries to work together to fight terrorism.

"When we are silent, the Islamic State will continue to spread terror throughout the world. We should act together, quickly and consistently. If we don't, we cannot be surprised by more terrorist attacks and more people in need," Rowhani said.

The French president echoed Rowhani's statement, but he added that it was urgent to implement humanitarian measures in Syria and find a political transition.

Iran has long supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose departure France has said is a precondition for a smooth transition to a functioning democracy.

"We talked about everything, because that is always France's rule of conduct," Hollande said. "I reiterated France's attachment to human rights, to liberty, for all countries, in all regions of the world."

Rowhani's visit was met with fierce protest, as hundreds of people demonstrated against state executions and what they called arbitrary sentencing in Iran. Dozens of people hoisted mock gallows in reference to executions.

In the morning, a protester from the feminist group Femen dangled herself from a bridge near the Eiffel Tower in a mock hanging. A poster at the bridge read: "Welcome Rouhani, executioner of freedom," using an alternate spelling of the Iranian leader's name.

Rowhani's trip was to have taken place in November, but was postponed in the wake of the Islamist attacks on Paris that killed 130 people. It is the first official visit by an Iranian leader to Europe since 1999.

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