Iran to buy 114 jets from Airbus - Tasnim news agency

DUBAI/PARIS (Reuters) - Iran plans to buy 114 civil aircraft from European aircraft maker Airbus, the transport minister was quoted as saying on Saturday, ahead of the anticipated lifting of international sanctions on Iran. "We have taken the first step in agreeing with Airbus to buy 114 planes," Abbas Akhoondi was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news agency. Airbus said it was not engaging in commercial talks with Iran until sanctions had been lifted. Sanctions were expected to be lifted in the wake of a recent agreement on Iran's nuclear activities later on Saturday, as diplomats gathered in Vienna and Iran said it had freed four U.S. citizens from jail. "Although Iran clearly has a need for new aircraft, we must conform strictly to the law and, until all measures concerning the embargo are lifted, no commercial discussions can take place," an Airbus spokesman said. A deal for 114 airplanes would be worth more than $10 billion at catalog prices, depending on the type of aircraft. Such a purchase would be in line with the predictions of Iranair, whose chairman told Reuters in an interview 18 months ago that, as soon as sanctions were eased, Iran would seek to obtain at least 100 wide-body and short-haul jets. Iranian and Western industry officials estimate that Iran, a country of 80 million people, will need a total of 400 or more aircraft in the next decade to renew an aging fleet that has suffered several fatal crashes in recent years. For France-based Airbus, its main U.S. rival Boeing and other manufacturers, that could mean an early windfall of $20 billion in deals, while leasing companies may also benefit due to long waiting times. Some Iranian officials have said the country is ready to place orders for at least 100 jets with both Airbus and Boeing. While the historic nuclear deal was still being negotiated, with Paris taking a tough stand, French firms were initially pessimistic about reaping the first wave of eventual contracts. But many firms say contacts have intensified since the July 14 accord and hope for a boost in discussions when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits Italy and France later this month. (Reporting by Sam Wilkin and Tim Hepher; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Mark Potter)