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State Dept. Denies U.S. and Iran Are Looking to Establish Direct Flights

State Dept. Denies U.S. and Iran Are Looking to Establish Direct Flights

Turns out you won’t be able to board that nonstop flight to Tehran just yet.

On Sunday, reports swirled in the Iranian media that Tehran and Washington were in talks to establish direct commercial flights between their respective countries, a move that would have broken down a major wall between the longtime adversaries. On Monday, though, the Obama administration denied that such negotiations were underway and downplayed the possibility of opening direct air travel between Iran and the United States anytime soon.

“That’s not something we’re considering. There are a number of issues, regulatory and otherwise, that would prevent direct flights between the U.S. and Iran,” said State Department spokesman Sam Werberg. “We’re not aware of any [U.S. government] officials involved in such talks.”

According to Tehran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhondi told reporters on the side lines of an aerospace conference that talks with the United States about direct flights were underway. That report also quoted Farhad Parvaresh, the managing director of Iran Air, saying negotiations with U.S. officials were underway.

With Western nations lifting sanctions worth tens of billions of dollars in exchange for Tehran’s compliance with restrictions on its nuclear program, Iran’s airline industry stands to benefit. Under the sanctions regime, Iranian carriers struggled to secure necessary spare parts and racked up a horrendous safety record. But with sanctions lifting, the Iranian airline industry is looking to modernize its fleet and expand service. Large parts of flag carrier Iran Air’s fleet is banned from European airspace for failing to meet international safety regulations.

On Monday, officials at Airbus announced that they are opening talks with Iran over the sale of perhaps more than 100 of the European airplane manufacturer’s jets. That deal, which would represent a commercial landmark in the recent rapprochement between Iran and the West, may be announced as early as this week, when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani travels to Paris for a meeting with French President François Hollande on Wednesday.

The Airbus talks are likely to set off a spate of frenzied deal-making in Tehran, particularly with the European and Russian companies that have been eager to resume their business dealings with the large and fast-growing country. U.S. firms aren’t likely to rush back into Iran anytime soon, however, due in part to the raft of other financial measures against Iran that are still in place.

While Iran has indicated an interest in buying planes from Boeing, Airbus’s American competitor, the Washington-based aerospace giant said earlier this month that “many steps” remain before it can negotiate a deal with Tehran to deliver planes.

Photo credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images