Iran won’t dine with France if wine is served

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BERLIN —Ahead of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s landmark European trip kicking off this weekend, French officials reportedly nixed plans for a formal dinner in Paris with President François Hollande following a dispute over the menu. The Iranians, according to France’s RTL Radio, insisted on a wine-free meal with halal meat — a request based on Islamic codes that amounted to culinary sacrilege in France, a nation that puts the secular ideals of the Republic above all else.
“According to Islamic values   and teachings, officials of the Islamic Republic do not participate in ceremonies where alcohol is served,” said the diplomat in charge of protocol at Iran’s foreign ministry, according to ISNA news agency.
The French, RTL said, counter offered with a presumably alcohol-free breakfast — which the Iranians promptly rejected because it appeared too “cheap.” The two leaders will now reportedly settle for a face-to-face chat next Tuesday.
The food fracas comes as Rouhani is staging his first official trip to Europe as president, one meant to herald Iran’s economic coming out after a long period of international sanctions. Rouhani will meet with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Pope Francis and Italian companies in Rome on Saturday before moving on to France, where he is set to deliver a speech at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and meet with French officials and companies.
A spokeswoman for the Elysée Palace declined immediate comment on the wine and halal spat. But it captured an interesting moment, both for France and Iran. In the international negotiations to reach a historic deal over Iran’s nuclear program, France had taken one of the hardest lines, and Rouhani’s visit is meant as a rapprochement – though whether it will amount to that remains unclear.
For French industry, the stakes are high. Following the sweeping deal that would lift international sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear capability, European companies and governments are tripping over themselves to court the Iranians. Italy, Germany and other nations have already dispatched trade missions and senior ministers to Tehran in preparation for what they hope will be a green light to turn on the spigots of investment early next year.

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