Last November, in Paris, lunch plans were scrapped for French President François Hollande and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani after secular officials refused to add halal meat to the menu and remove French wine. If Rouhani’s visit to Rome this week is any indication, Italian officials have a different way of handling things.
Rouhani arrived in Rome Monday, and on Tuesday Prime Minister Matteo Renzi went so far as to ensure nude statues in Rome’s famous Capitoline Museums were covered with white cardboard before the two visited exhibits there together.
Boxes of respect: nude statues covered up in Rome's Capitoline museums to not offend Iran's President on his visit pic.twitter.com/jKpPBJaQ8L
— Robin Monotti (@robinmonotti) January 26, 2016
According to the Financial Times, wine was not served at Rouhani’s welcome dinner, which included artichoke souffle, European sea bass, and a chestnut semifreddo dessert. “Italy was at one point our top commercial partner, and the Iranian people have great memories of working with your business community, with your industrial economy,” the Iranian president said in a press conference before sitting down to the meal. “They always kept their commitments, they worked well, and we are sure there will be good cooperation between our two countries again.”
Securing that cooperation was a large part of the reason for Rouhani’s visit. He brought more than 100 ministers and business moguls with him, and by Monday evening, billions of dollars in business deals had already been signed. Some of those deals reportedly include infrastructure, ship-building, steel, and energy — including at least $4 billion on pipelines.
He and Renzi also discussed shared interests in combating terrorism and most notably the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Although some Western nations consider Tehran to be complicit in acts of terrorism, Iranian officials are eager to assert themselves as a trustworthy partner in the fight against extremism. On Monday, Renzi said he considered the visit to “be a fundamental part of our ability to overcome together the challenge of fighting terrorism, atrocity, and evil that we all have to confront together.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Rouhani spent 40 minutes with Pope Francis, who discussed Iran’s responsibility to combat terrorism in the Middle East. The pope asked Rouhani to consider loosening restrictions on freedom of religion, and Rouhani asked the pope to pray for him.
Rome was the first stop on Rouhani’s European visit, his first trip to the continent since trade sanctions were eased between Iran and the West.
He and his delegation fly to France Wednesday. There will be no welcome dinner. Hollande will have to drink his wine alone.
Photo credit: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images