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Iran's President Meets The Pope On Start Of European Tour

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Trade isn't the only thing the Iranian president talked about in Italy today. He also had a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican which included a conversation about fostering peace with other Middle Eastern countries. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has more.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The meeting lasted 40 minutes - long by Vatican standards, and a Holy See statement described it as cordial. It said the pope and Rouhani spoke of their common spiritual values and the good relations between the Holy See and Iran. They discussed the deal Tehran reached with world powers to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for an end to economic sanctions, and the statement stressed what it called the relevant role Iran is called on to play to promote suitable political solutions to the problems afflicting the Middle East to counter the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking. As he left, Rouhani borrowed from the pope one of his signature remarks, asking him, please, pray for me. Francis thanked him for the visit and said, I hope for peace.

The Vatican has had diplomatic ties with Tehran from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They've grown even stronger under Francis, who is keen on conflict resolution and mediation. Iran is the strongest ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the Vatican like the Rome government, sees Tehran as a potential peacemaker in Syria's civil war. While many Western nations accuse Tehran of financing several militant groups they consider terrorist organizations, there was no mention of that during Rouhani's talks with Vatican and Italian officials.

In order not to offend the leader of the Islamic Republic, Italian authorities went so far as not to serve wine at a state dinner last night at a Rome museum and even had the many nude statues on display there covered up. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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