Iran's Rouhani to visit Vatican in January

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will be visiting the Vatican in the second half of January.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will be visiting the Vatican in the second half of January.PHOTO: REUTERS

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will make his first visit to the Vatican and meet Pope Francis in the second half of January, a spokesman for the tiny city state said Tuesday.

While no date has been set, the visit is likely to take place towards the end of the month, spokesman Ciro Benedettini told journalists.

Rouhani, a self-declared moderate who was elected in 2013, had been scheduled to visit the Vatican in November as part of a tour which would have taken him to Italy and France. But the trip was cancelled following the Paris attacks.

The previous official visit by an Iranian president to the Vatican was in 1999 when Mohammad Khatami met John Paul II, followed by another visit in 2005 when he attended the Polish pope's funeral.

While it is forbidden to convert to Christianity in Iran, the country's small minority of Eastern Catholics enjoy greater religious freedom than in many Sunni Gulf states.