ROME (AA) – The second day of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s historic visit to Europe will see him meet Pope Francis on a trip that is otherwise focused on more worldly matters.
Rouhani – the first Iranian president to visit the continent in 16 years – is to meet the Pope at the Vatican on Tuesday, according to local media, following a speech he is due to give to an Italian-Iranian business conference at a hotel in Rome.
Francis has tried to bolster relations between Christianity and Islam during his three years as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
The visit, which will see Rouhani travel to Paris on Wednesday, comes just days after international economic sanctions against Iran were dropped following a groundbreaking deal on the country’s nuclear program.
In the wake of the opening of Iran’s economy to the world, European governments and firms are keen to resume trade with the world’s seventh-biggest oil producer.
Following his arrival on Monday, Rouhani tweeted that he expected to “reinforce bilateral relations and explore opportunities” during his visit, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
He spent the day in discussions with President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
The meeting with Renzi at the Capitoline Museum saw investment deals worth 17 billion euros ($18.45 billion) signed with Italian companies, including an agreement with Ferrovie dello Stato public railway, an oil and gas deal with Saipem and an arrangement for Iranian use of the port of Trieste.
Agreements are also expected in the minerals sector. Iranian Trade Minister Mehdi Karbasian, who is travelling with Rouhani, told Iranian news agency Tasnim on Monday that contracts worth $5.4 billion were ready for investment with Italy in the sector.
Iran’s return to the global community, which Renzi welcomed as a “sign of extraordinary change”, also paves the way to resolve regional issues, particularly the Syrian civil war, where Iran is a major supporter of President Bashar al-Assad in the five-year conflict.
“The visit is key in winning the fight against terror,” Renzi said. “This fight will be easier with Iran’s presence.”
Earlier, Rouhani said fighting terrorism required international cooperation.
“Everyone must do their part to the utmost, without ambiguities,” he told Mattarella at a meeting at the presidential palace, ANSA reported.
He added: “As in Afghanistan, Iran and Italy should work together for peace in the Middle East.”
Rouhani said his country could be a vital trade partner for Italy. “In Italy, we feel at home,” he said. “We have historic ties to Italy, therefore we started the tour of Europe with Italy.”
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