January 28, 2016

A lunch between the French and Iranian presidents in Paris was scrapped because France refused to remove wine from the menu.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has been on a tour of Europe, signing billions of pounds worth of business deals with different nations, after economic sanctions against the country were lifted. He was due to dine with President Francois Hollande at a restaurant in the French capital.

The French insisted on serving local food and wine but the Iranians demanded a halal menu in keeping with their Muslim faith. Hollande’s officials said preparing the meal to be ‘Iran friendly’ went against France’s republican values.

The Elysee Palace suggested a breakfast with Rouhani instead, but this was said to be snubbed by the Iranian leader for being ‘too cheap’.

A diplomatic source told the RTL radio station: ‘The leaders have missed out on a great opportunity to meet in the relaxed environment of a meal.’ In contrast, the Italians made sure the Iranian visit went smoothly by keeping alcohol off the menu for state dinners and covering up its nude statues.

A wooden box was placed around several pieces, including a Venus dating back to the Second Century BC, at Rome’s Capitoline Museum, before the Italian and Iranian premiers spoke there. Rouhani, who signed £12billion worth of deals with the Italian government and businesses, said he did not make any specific requests for museum officials to cover up naked statues but the gesture was appreciated.

He added: ‘I know that Italians are a very hospitable people, a people who try to do the most to put their guests at ease and I thank you for this.’  Some Italian politicians condemned the gesture as ‘cultural submission’.

Two years ago, the Swedish ambassador to Iran sparked a diplomatic spat by ‘insultingly’ crossing his legs in front of then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Peter Tejler adopted the casual seating pose at a meeting in Tehran, causing huge offence by accidentally revealing the soles of his shoes.

Rouhani’s first ever visit to France this week comes after a nuclear deal was struck between the Islamic republic and world powers. France took a hard line in the nuclear talks and condemned Iran for supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

After starting his trip to Paris by meeting some 20 company executives, Rouhani is due to deliver a speech to business leaders on Thursday at a Franco-Iranian forum, where Iranian ministers will outline their plans.

He told French business leaders that Iran was open for investment as he started a visit in France to revive business ties despite diplomatic differences.  Several agreements are due to be announced after a meeting with President Francois Hollande.

Iranian officials have said they are poised to agree on a deal for Airbus aircraft, while car manufacturers Peugeot and Renault may also agree contracts. Airport design and construction talks may be on the agenda too, potentially involving builders Bouygues and Vinci and airports operator ADP.

Protestors in France are demanding that Hollande take Rouhani to task over the thousands of political prisoners jailed in Iran for speaking against the regime, election rigging and public executions, amputations and floggings.

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