German economy minister leads large trade delegation to Iran
TEHRAN - German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel headed a large business delegation to Iran on Monday, seeking to rebuild trade ties and support the country's opening to the world despite political differences.
"We can build on a long tradition of trade cooperation between Iran and Germany. The German economy can play an important role in the modernisation of Iran," Gabriel told reporters.
He was joined by some 120 business representatives and dozens of journalists for the two-day visit to Tehran, and Iranian media said 10 trade deals were signed on areas including banking, energy and water.
German companies are putting a lot of hope in Iran, the second-largest economy in the Middle East and one of the world's last untapped markets for global business.
A nuclear accord with world powers last year saw international sanctions against Iran dropped, though global banks remain reluctant to work with the Islamic republic due to continuing US sanctions.
Gabriel said it was important to overcome financing difficulties, and said he was keen to support the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani in its efforts to rebuild ties with the world.
"It is in our interest to support the policy of Iran, the policy of your government, to keep opening this country," he said at the business forum.
"We know there won't be wonders, but the people want to see that there is progress."
The German minister sparked controversy before his visit when he said that cooperation between the two countries would require Iran to recognise Israel.
"If I were in the place of the honourable government or the foreign minister, I would not have allowed such a person to enter the country," said the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, according to the Mizanonline news site.
Gabriel acknowledged on Monday that "there are differences between our countries".
"There are many points that connect us, and some points that separate us. In foreign policy we have a different point of view, especially regarding the difficult conflict in Syria. We should talk about this with respect for each other," he said.
He added that Germany supports Iran's desire to join the World Trade Organisation.
Trade between the two countries -- which was 2.4 billion euros last year ($2.7 billion) -- grew by 15 percent in the first half of 2016.