The lunch with François Hollande was reportedly dropped as the French refused to bow to demand for halal meat to be served and for the wine to be left off the table
François Hollande and Hassan RouhaniPhoto: Rex/EPA
By Herny Samuel, in Paris
7:09PM GMT 27 Jan 2016
France, unlike Italy, has reportedly refused to take wine off the table for Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, meaning he will lunch alone during his historic trip to Paris – the first for an Iranian leader in 17 years.
As anger mounted in Rome on Wednesday over a decision to cover up nude statues with large white panels so as not to offend Mr Rouhani, the French have already made it clear that no such cultural concessions would be made regarding its cherished gastronomy.
In Rome, alcohol was not served at an official dinner held in Mr Rouhani’s honour – a standard Italian diplomatic gesture for visiting Muslim dignitaries.
But in Paris, an originally planned lunch at the Elysée Palace with François Hollande was dropped because the French refused to cede to the Iranian presidency's demand for halal meat to be served and for the wine to be left off the table, citing “republican traditions”.
Alcohol consumption is no laughing matter in Iran, whose culture ministry has just banned the word “wine” from books published in the Islamic Republic on the grounds that it amounts to the “cultural invasion” of the West.
Covered statues at the Capitoline Museums, during a visit from Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (inset)
The French reportedly suggested a compromise breakfast meeting instead, but the Iranians were reportedly unhappy with this, saying it was “too cheap”.
So the two presidents are due to meet outside of mealtime on Thursday at the Elysée, where Mr Rouhani will nevertheless be “treated with all the honours of the Republic”, according to a diplomatic source.
The trip comes after the end of economic sanctions prompted by a deal to curb Iran's nuclear activities.
Mr Rouhani was to begin his trip to Paris by meeting company executives. He will deliver a speech to business leaders on Thursday at a Franco-Iranian forum, and hold face-to-face talks with the Total and Airbus bosses.
Several deals are due to be announced after his meeting with Mr Hollande, including one to buy 114 Airbuses. Carmakers Peugeot and Renault may also agree contracts.
Over in Italy, which rolled out the red carpet to Mr Rouhani, a row over the decision to conceal nude Rome-era statues in the Capitoline Museum intensified on Wednesday.
President Rouhani walks with the pontiff
Dario Franceschini, the culture minister, said: "I think there easily would have been other ways to not offend an important foreign guest without this incomprehensible choice of covering up the statues."
Neither he nor Matteo Renzi the prime minister, had been informed of the decision, Mr Franceschini insisted amid the furore over a move that some politicians slammed as “cultural submission”.
Mr Rouhani laughed on Wednesday when asked at the end of a three-day visit to Italy about the statue cover-up, which made headlines in Italy and around the world. He said Iran made no specific request for the cover-up, saying there were "no contacts about this" from the Iranian side.
But 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."
The Paris leg of his trip is expected to be more low-key than in Italy given France’s hard line in nuclear negotiations, outspoken condemnation of Tehran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and close ties with Sunni states.
"It's true that Iran has returned to the international community, but it doesn't mean we agree on everything, especially on Syria," Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said on Wednesday.
Mr Hollande will discuss human rights and executions in Iran, his aides said, as opponents of the Iranian government prepare to protest across Paris on Thursday.
"Rolling out the red carpet for Rouhani by European governments is to welcome the godfather of terrorism and fundamentalism," said Maryam Rajavi, head of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University (http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/jhb7/) for over ten years, he still shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."