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EghtesadOnline: French telecoms network operator Orange will continue to see slow growth in revenues in the Middle East and Africa this year as it continues to negotiate entry to Iran’s market.

The company sees the wider Middle East region as key to its future, but is struggling to turn it into a strong growth driver as talks with a potential partner in Iran drag on, Reuters reported.

Talks with Iran’s largest mobile operator, Mobile Telecommunication Company of Iran (Hamrah-e-Avval), meanwhile are “very far” from reaching a final agreement,  Bruno Mettling, Orange’s deputy CEO and head of operations for the region said.

The discussions, which were revealed last year, first aim at a commercial agreement and then possibly an equity stake in the national operator, according to Financial Tribune.

“It’s very long, it’s very slow, it’s very complicated,” Mettling said.

The French company is pushing the Iranian side to move ahead with the deal as MTN Group -- which is already present with a 49% stake in MTN-Irancell -- continues to reap the benefits of being the first company to upgrade its network to 4.5G standards.

Previously in September a company representative said, “We anticipate that these discussions will be finalized within a few months.”

The Orange merger/partnership deal originally appeared in reports in September 2015 when Iran’s Telecoms Minister Mahmoud Vaezi facilitated discussions between the French operator and an unnamed mobile telecom firm.

Orange’s revenue growth in the region halved to 2.6% last year, a performance that was deemed disappointing by several industry analysts after the operator published its full-year earnings last week.

Mettling indicated growth this year in the Middle East and Africa, where the company is present in 21 national markets, is unlikely to be much higher.

The French firm should also add to its 120 million customers in the region, he said. That figure did not include the possible 40 million extra MCI subscribers if the deal is concluded.

Iran-France trade Orange Iran Telecommunications Iran’s MCI