Pope Francis met with the Iranian president Tuesday, joining in a cordial discussion which touched on the recent nuclear accord and Iran’s role in the region. President Hassan Rouhani met first with Francis, privately for 40 minutes, and later with other officials. The Vatican in a statement said the conversation delved into the nuclear accord recently taking effect and “the important role that Iran was called to play” to combat terrorism along with other countries in the region.
Iran was also urged to help fight arms trafficking, the Vatican said. The Vatican described the talks as “cordial” and said “common spiritual values were highlighted,” as well as good Iranian-Vatican relations. After the meeting, Iran’s president asked Pope Francis to pray for him. The Vatican meeting was a key part of an Iranian effort to take a more prominent place on the world stage after a nuclear deal with Western powers.
Rouhani’s visit to the Holy See saw the first meeting between a pope and an Iranian president since 1999. Iran, which agreed to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for an end to economic sanctions, is eager to carve out a bigger role in mediating Middle East conflicts. Francis’ papacy has emphasized mediation and conflict resolution, including his role in helping Cuba and the United States to normalize their relations after.
The Iranian leader is on a four-day European swing to boost Iran’s image abroad as well as to rehabilitate economic ties with a continent that had been a big trade partner before sanctions. “I ask you to pray for me,” Rouhani told Francis after their 40-minute meeting. He called the visit by the leader of a Muslim country to the head of the Roman Catholic church “a real pleasure.”