Iranian president visits Pope Francis

Rome first stop on Rouhani's visit to Europe.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on 26 January, the first meeting between a pope and an Iranian head of state since 1999, when President Mohammad Khatami visited St John Paul II.

The meeting between Rouhani and Pope Francis, which comes on the second day of the Iranian president's four-day visit to Rome and Paris, is likely to focus on supporting peace efforts in Syria and Iraq.

Rouhani and his 120-strong delegation of business leaders and ministers signed up to €17 billion worth of trade deals in Rome on 25 January. Rouhani's visit, designed to rebuild Iran's ties with the west, comes a week after international economic sanctions against the Islamic republic were lifted following the the implementation of a nuclear deal.

Welcoming Rouhani to Rome's Capitoline Museums, whose nude statues were covered to avoid offending the Iranian delegation, Italian premier Matteo Renzi said Iran's president "can play a fundamental role in the stability" of the Middle East.

Italy's president Sergio Mattarella also met Rouhani whose visit, originally scheduled for November last year, was cancelled following the 13 November attacks in Paris, in which Islamic militants killed 130 people.

On the first day of Rouhani's visit Rome's central train station Termini had to be evacuated for about 30 minutes following the sighting of a man carrying a gun. The securty alert turned out to be a false alarm when the suspected gunman was intercepted by police at 21.00 on a train near Anagni south of Rome, and was found to be only carrying a toy rifle.

Currently on heightened security alert, Rome has more than 2,000 extra police officers on duty, many of them stationed in the vicinity of public transport hubs, to coincide with the Vatican’s Holy Jubilee of Mercy which lasts until 20 November.

Photo La Stampa