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 U.S. diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Central/Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. After leaving the State Department in order to express opposition to the planned invasion of Iraq, he taught courses at Georgetown University pertaining to the tension between propaganda and public diplomacy. For many years he shared ideas on the theme "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" with Eurasian/European delegates participating in the "Open World" program.
Brown’s articles have appeared in numerous publications. A recent piece is “Janus-Faced Public Diplomacy: Creel and Lippmann During the Great War” (published in Nontraditional U.S. Public Diplomacy: Past, Present, and Future; now online).
He is the author (with S. Grant) of The Russian Empire and the USSR: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States (also online). In the past century, he served as an editor/translator of a joint U.S.-Soviet publication, The Establishment of Russian-American Relations, 1765-1815.