Rouhani's visit to Italy would mark his first official visit to a European Union country. It comes after an agreement reached in July between Iran and a number of world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
Pope Francis had been a key international supporter of that deal. In an Easter message, he had offered praise for the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran, describing it as "a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.” Once the deal was reached, the Vatican's foreign minister made a statement in support of it. “The way to resolve disputes and difficulties should always be that of dialogue and negotiation,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher said in September.
This wouldn't be the first time that a Catholic leader has met with the elected leader of Iran, an Islamic republic since 1979. In 1999, Pope Jean Paul II met with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami at the Vatican. Afterwards, the Iranian leader told reporters, "The hope is for the final victory of monotheism, morality, peace and reconciliation." The visit drew protests from critics of the Iranian regime.
No Iranian leader has visited the Vatican since then, and a few years ago Pope Benedict apparently turned down requests from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Iran.
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