Iran's president asks Pope Francis to pray for him in peacemaker role
Pope Francis met the Iranian president yesterday, 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.
Rouhani's visit to the Holy See saw the first meeting between a pope and an Iranian president since 1999.
Before going to the Vatican, Rouhani told business leaders in Rome that "Iran is the safest and most stable country of the entire region."
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.
Rouhani's four-day visit to Italy and France is part of efforts to reach out to its old partners following the nuclear deal.
The trip was originally planned for November but postponed because of the attacks in Paris.
Pope Francis' papacy has emphasised mediation and conflict resolution, including his role in helping Cuba and the US to normalise relations.
The pontiff described the visit as "a real pleasure."
He gave the Iranian a medal depicting St. Martin helping a poor man, an act Francis called "a sign of unsolicited brotherhood".
Rouhani brought a gift of a handmade rug and told the pope it was made in the Iranian holy city of Qhom.
Italy also sees Iran as a potential peacemaker in Syria's civil war, as the Italian government fears the warfare will further destabilise Libya, just across the Mediterranean from southern Italy, fuel terrorism and jeopardise energy security.