Rome Jewish community pans Rouhani visit

Marcy Oster

(JTA) – Pope Francis held a “cordial” meeting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and urged him to combat terrorism and work for peace in the Middle East.

A Vatican statement said that at the 40-minute audience at the Vatican Tuesday “common spiritual values emerged and reference was made to the good state of relations between the Holy See and the Islamic Republic of Iran, the life of the Church in the country and the action of the Holy See to favor the promotion of the dignity of the human person and religious freedom.”

It said the two discussed “the conclusion and application of the Nuclear Accord and the important role that Iran is called upon to fulfill, along with other countries in the region, to promote suitable political solutions to the problems afflicting the Middle East, to counter the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking.” The statement also said the two leaders “highlighted the importance of interreligious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace.”

At a meeting with Italian and Iranian business leaders, Rouhani said his county had “no intention of attacking or invading any other country” and “no intention of interfering in the affairs of any other country.” He added, “A lack of development creates the conditions for extremism, unemployment recruits soldiers for terrorism.”

Rome’s Jewish community, however, sharply criticized Rouhani’s visit to Italy, particularly as the timing came just ahead of the January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In a statement, the Jewish community leadership underscored Rouhani’s positions of a clear “Holocaust denial and revisionist nature.”  It cited the “constant calls for the destruction of Israel” and manifestations such as Tehran’s “contest for anti-Semitic and Holocaust revisionist cartoons.” These , it said, as well as his government’s “lack of respect for civil rights, constant increase of the death penality, restrictions on freedom of the press” made Rouhani’s official visit to Rome “unwelcome.”

Rouhani is on a four-day visit to Italy and France to bolster its international role following the implementation of the accord with the United States and five other states to curb its nuclear activities and end economic sanctions.

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