ROME Italy and Iran signed deals potentially worth billions on Tuesday when Prime Minister Matteo Renzi visited Tehran seeking a strong Italian foothold in a nation hungry for infrastructure investment as it emerges from financial isolation.
Renzi was accompanied by a delegation of some 60 business leaders in sectors including energy, railways and defence, and by Italy's export agency and state lender which pledged billions of euros in credit lines and guarantees.
Three months ago President Hassan Rouhani made Italy his first stop in Europe as he sought to drum up investment in the Iranian economy, which rejoined the global trading system in January following a deal to lift crippling sanctions in exchange for limiting its nuclear activities.
"The end of sanctions is a historic step not only for Iran but for the whole region," Renzi told reporters in Tehran with Rouhani standing by his side.
"We are committed to making sure the efforts of the international community are accompanied by mutual trust and by the immediate relaunch of economic links."
Business delegations from other European countries are expected in Tehran in coming weeks, but Italy is well positioned to win contracts that could deliver a much needed export boost for its chronically sluggish economy, especially in the energy sector.
Enel (ENEI.MI) said it signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Iranian Gas Export Company on possible future cooperation in natural gas, liquefied natural gas and related infrastructure, that could lead to long-term gas supplies for its power stations.
The Enel deal was one of seven signed by Renzi and Rouhani, Iranian state television said. Renzi was due to return to Rome on Wednesday.
Oil contractor Saipem said it inked an MOU with the Razavi Oil & Gas Development Company for the Toos Gas Field project, which holds more than 60 billion cubic metres of gas in place. The project involves drilling five firm and two optional wells, a statement said.
Oil major Eni (ENI.MI) has an agreement that allows it to take oil from Iran in payment for previous investments.
Italy's state railways company, Ferrovie dello Stato, said it signed a "framework of cooperation" agreement to build two high-speed lines in Iran. The contract could be worth some 3 billion euros, a source close to the matter said.
Italy's state-run lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti will offer credit lines of 4 billion euros to companies building oil-and-gas and transport infrastructure, while export agency SACE will guarantee those loans, a SACE statement said.
A further 800 million euros in credit lines for small- and medium-sized will also be offered, the statement said.
When Rouhani visited Italy in January, Saipem already signed preliminary deals that could be worth $4-5 billion, a source said at the time. Steel firm Danieli, infrastructure firm Condotte d'Acqua, rail and road company Gavio, and airplane manufacturer Finmeccanica also reached preliminary agreements with Iranian companies in January.
($1 = 0.8758 euros)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Stephen Jewkes, additional reporting by Sam Wilkin in Dubai, Isla Binnie in Rome and Francesca Landini in Milan, editing by Isla Binnie and Robin Pomeroy and Richard Balmforth)
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