THE LEVANT NEWS –France is reportedly refusing to host a formal lunch for visiting Iranian president Hassan Rouhani – because the Muslim leader requested halal meat and a booze-free table.
French president Francois Hollande and the hardline Islamic ruler had been due to dine together during an Iranian state visit to Paris next week.
But the meal has now been cancelled because the Iranians would not eat at a table that was ‘offensive to their Muslim values’, and France is said to has refused to bow to their religious demands.
Officials at the presidential Elysee Palace said making the food and drink ‘Iran-friendly’ was contrary to France’s republican values, it has been reported.
In an attempt at compromise, the Elysee suggested a breakfast meeting instead, but this was reportedly rejected by the Iranians as being ‘too cheap’.
A diplomatic source told RTL radio: ‘A meal had been planned but fell through. The leaders have missed out on a great opportunity to meet in the relaxed environment of a meal.’
Two years ago, the Swedish ambassador to Iran sparked a diplomatic spat by ‘insultingly’ crossing his legs in front of then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Blundering Peter Tejler adopted the casual seating pose at a meeting in Tehran – and caused huge offence by accidentally revealing the soles of his shoes.
Fuming Mr Ahmadinejad is said to have then crossed his own legs while the two men chatted to return the insult.
In 2009, former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki declined a dinner invitation with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy because he did not want alcohol at the table.
Rouhani’s first visit to France next week comes after a nuclear deal was struck between the Islamic republic and world powers.
France has a long history of commercial, political and social links with Iran – in the 1970s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei lived in exile near Paris.
But France also took one of the hardest lines of the six powers negotiating an agreement on curtailing Iran’s nuclear programme.
However, French officials have said they do not believe that will hurt its business in Iran and potential deals are likely to back that opinion.
‘Several accords will be signed by French and Iranian ministers covering a variety of sectors, in particular political dialogue, economic cooperation, air transport, health and agriculture,’ President Francois Hollande’s office said in a statement today.
A senior French economic and political delegation headed to Tehran in mid-September to lay the groundwork for the first business contracts between France and Iran since an accord to curb its nuclear programme was struck in July.
France’s main business lobby group, the Medef, sent a delegation comprising more than 100 firms to Iran. It included such companies as oil major Total, planemaker Airbus and car manufacturer Peugeot.
Officials say Paris may initially secure deals in areas that were not specifically hit by European Union and US sanctions, most notably in agriculture and livestock, where France has relatively little activity in Iran.
The lifting of sanctions imposed on Iran by the West could begin in the first quarter of 2016 if Iran meets its obligations under the deal struck with major powers, which was intended to stop it acquiring nuclear weapons.
Rouhani will be in the French capital from November 16 to 17.