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Pope Francis, Iranian President meet face-to-face at the Vatican

Published On : 26 Jan 2016

Vatican, (CNN): The leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the President of Iran met Tuesday at the Vatican, a face-to-face encounter that speaks to a changing geopolitical landscape and both men's significant role in it.

Cameras captured Pope Francis and President Hassan Rouhani shaking hands and sitting down across from each other. The Vatican later offered a glimpse into what it called"cordial discussions" touching on the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear accord and "problems afflicting the Middle East."

While the Vatican news release didn't mention any specific group or country, no doubt the agenda included talk about the years-long war and humanitarian crisis in Syria and Christians endangered by Islamist extremists such as ISIS in that country, neighboring Iraq and elsewhere.

"The parties highlighted the importance of inter-religious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace," the Vatican said.

Press TV, an official Iranian media outlet, offered a very similar takeout on the 40-minute meeting. That report said Rouhani gave the Pope a handwoven Persian carpet and book featuring the works of painter Mahmoud Farshchian.

The pair -- one a Muslim cleric, the other the world's most recognized Christian leader -- had planned to sit down in November, according to official Iranian and Vatican news outlets. But Rouhani postponed that meeting, and his entire trip to Europe, following that month's coordinated terrorist massacre in Paris.

They entered Tuesday's talks with high expectations at a time when Iran's role in global affairs has evolved considerably.

Just last fall, Tehran was still subject to widespread sanctions over its nuclear program. Those sanctions have recently been lifted as part of a deal that Rouhani championed, arguing since his 2013 election that it's in his nation's best interest to resolve the issue and become more involved in world economic and political affairs.

Prior to the sitdown, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told CNN's Christiane Amanpour, "I think that the meeting of President Rouhani with the Pope is one of the signals of the fact that, after the nuclear deal, we have a possibility of a relevant involvement of Iran in a regional and global framework."

Photo credit: CNN

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