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.
Iran President Hassan Rouhani met first with Francis, privately for 40 minutes, and later with other officials.
“I ask you to pray for me,” Rouhani told Francis after. He called the visit by the leader of a Muslim country to the head of the Roman Catholic church “a real pleasure.”
Rouhani’s visit to the Holy See saw the first meeting between a pope and an Iranian president since 1999, and comes as Iran looks to carve out a bigger role in mediating Middle East conflicts.
Rouhani arrived for the late-morning, closed-door meeting in a motorcade of some two dozen limousines. Security, already tight around the Vatican following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, was even more rigid than usual. Police kept tourists and Romans from walking too close to the colonnade ringing the square before and during the visit.
Tehran is keen on re-establishing energy and other economic ties with Europe, long a dependable trading partner.
Before going to the Vatican, Rouhani told a forum of business leaders in Rome that “Iran is the safest and most stable country of the entire region.”
Italy also sees Iran as a potential peacemaker in Syria’s civil war, as the Italian government fears the warfare will further destabilize Libya, just across the Mediterranean from southern Italy, fuel terrorism and jeopardize energy security.
“Italy has always backed the role of Iran as a regional player in resolving tensions in the area, starting with the Syrian crisis,” Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said after meeting his Iranian counterpart, according to his office.
Rouhani’s visit to Italy and France is part of efforts by Iran to reach out to its old partners following the implementation of the nuclear deal, and Rouhani is eager for foreign investment after the lifting of international sanctions. The trip was originally planned for November but postponed because of the attacks in Paris.
The Associated Press contributed to this article