(JTA) – Rome’s Jewish community slammed a visit to Italy by the president of Iran, particularly as it came just ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
On Tuesday, Pope Francis held a “cordial” 40-minute meeting with Hassan Rouhani and urged him to combat terrorism and work for peace in the Middle East, the Vatican said. Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed on Wednesday.
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, the statement said, as well as his government’s “lack of respect for civil rights, constant increase of the death penalty, 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 Iran’s international role following the implementation of the accord with the United States and five other world powers to curb its nuclear activities and end economic sanctions.
At the Vatican audience with the pope, “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,” a Vatican statement said.
It said Francis and Rouhani 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 country 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.”