Total CEO Defends France's Trade Overtures to Iran

Total SA Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie defended a visit by a French trade delegation last week to Iran as a way for companies to gain a competitive edge should sanctions be lifted.

“When it becomes legal to work in Iran and contractual terms are satisfactory, I don’t see why Total would deprive itself of the possibility to beat out its Anglo-Saxon competitors in Iran,” de Margerie said today at a press conference. “We have the right to move, that’s not illegal.”

The U.S. has criticized the visit, during which more than 100 representatives of French businesses including oil producer Total met top Iranian trade officials in Tehran. President Barack Obama and his French counterpart Francois Hollande yesterday reminded companies planning on doing business with Iran that sanctions against its nuclear program remain in place.

Sanctions “will only be lifted if and when there is a definite agreement” on Iran’s atomic program, Hollande said at a joint press briefing in Washington.

An interim nuclear deal with world powers last November eased some trade injunctions against the Islamic Republic, and the newly elected regime of President Hassan Rouhani is courting new investment after years of political and economic isolation under his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Energy, Transport

France’s delegation was led by French business association Medef International and included companies from the energy, automotive, transportation, telecommunications, banking and cosmetics industries, the state-run Iranian Students’ News Agency reported. Medef confirmed the trip, without providing a list of participants.

In testimony to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Wendy Sherman, under secretary of state for political affairs, said that the message conveyed by Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials is that such trade visits are “not helpful.”

De Margerie, who said he wasn’t part of the French delegation, noted that the U.S. led a business delegation to Myanmar before sanctions were lifted in that country.

“The U.S. isn’t going to start explaining to us how things work,” de Margerie said today.

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