Iranian president Rouhani begins 4-day European visit

slid1Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets Italian President Sergio Mattarella, right, upon his arrival at the Quirinale Presidential palace, in Rome, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. On his four-day tour, in the wake of the implementation of Iran’s landmark nuclear agreement, Rouhani is scheduled to meet with the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Pope Francis and the French President Francois Hollande. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME (AP) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived Monday in Rome on the first state visit to Europe by an Iranian president in almost two decades, eager for foreign investments after the lifting of international sanctions.

The four-day visit to Italy and France is part of efforts by Iran to reach out to its old partners following the implementation of a landmark deal on curbing Iran’s nuclear activities. The trip was originally planned for November but postponed by the attacks in Paris.

Europe was Iran’s largest trading partner before the sanctions, and a range of business and trade deals is expected, including with Airbus for the purchase of new aircraft. The trip is also aimed at expanding tourism as Rouhani’s administration is planning to diversify its revenue sources.

Rouhani met first with Italian President Sergio Matterella, and was scheduled to meet later with the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and on Wednesday with Pope Francis. In France, he is to be welcomed by President Francois Hollande.

Italy was Iran’s second-largest trading partner, after Germany, with 7 billion euros ($7.6 billion) in trade dropping to 1.5 billion after the sanctions. Italian officials hope to rebuild that to 3 billion in exports alone through 2018.

The last trip to Italy by an Iranian leader was in 2008, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended an FAO summit in Rome without any official meeting with the host country’s leaders.

In 1999, then-President Mohammad Khatami visited Italy. It was the first time since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution that an Iranian leader had visited any Western country.

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