REUTERS - Iran said on Thursday it was under no obligation to buy A380 superjumbo jets, state news agency IRNA reported, raising further questions over part of a landmark deal with European plane manufacturer Airbus.
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The order for the double-decker jetliners grabbed attention in January as part of a preliminary deal signed in Paris for 118 Airbus planes worth $27 billion. Iran has also provisionally agreed to buy or lease 109 Boeing jets.
Reuters reported on Monday, however, that Tehran was having second thoughts about whether to take delivery of the order for a dozen A380 superjumbo jets.
"We have freedom to choose ... we have no obligation and commitment to buy A380 planes," Iranian Roads and Urban Development Minister Abbas Akhoundi said, according to IRNA.
Discussing the Airbus order in February, the chairman of national flag carrier IranAir said the A380 would not arrive for another five years and the airline would in the meantime monitor the expansion of Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport.
"This is part of a five-year plan for Iran's aviation ... and the Iranian official in charge of buying such planes will decide then," Akhoundi said.
The United States and Europe lifted sanctions in January under a 2015 deal with Tehran to limit its nuclear program, but U.S. sanctions unrelated to the nuclear issue remain, banning dollar transactions with Iran and making it harder for firms to access finance for business in the Islamic Republic.
Iran needs an estimated 400 jets to renew its fleet after decades of sanctions and to prepare for projected growth, according to Iranian and Western estimates.
Pragmatist Iranian President Hassan Rohani's success in ending Iran's the prolonged standoff with the West has intensified a power struggle among the country's faction-ridden elite.
"Rohani has been criticized by his (hardline) rivals publicly and in private meetings over the deals made to buy or lease new airplanes," a senior official, who asked not to be named, said.
"The government is determined to renew the air fleet. However, we prefer to avoid political conflicts. Safety of our people is the most important issue for us," the official said.
A spokesman for Airbus said it could not comment on any details of commercial agreements.