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ICC Note: As the UN Envoy to Syria prepares for the beginning of peace talks, the Christian community is praying for the eliminationism campaign against Christians and minorities to be addressed within the talks.  Pope Francis met with Iranian President Rouhani to discuss the importance of remembering the rights of Christians and other minorities that have been persecuted and displaced during the Syrian war and the rise of ISIS.  As a key ally of the Syrian regime, Iran’s position in the peace talks will greatly affect the fate of the Christians and minorities in the area.

1/26/2016 Middle East (Ecumenical News) – Pope Francis and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have met at the Vatican, discussing human rights and Iran’s role in the Middle East, in part of a push by Tehran to reintroduce itself to the West after years of stringent sanctions.

On the same day the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, invited the Syrian government and opposition to peace talks due to start in Geneva on Jan. 29.  The news came in a UN statement on Jan. 26 but it didn’t specify exactly which groups have been invited, and the matter is already the subject of disagreement.

The meeting between the Pope and President Rouhani is the first of its kind since 1999 when Pope St. John Paul II received in audience at the Vatican the then Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, Vatican Radio reported.

The Vatican meeting came on the second day of a four-day visit by Rouhani to Italy and France, The Wall Street Journal reported.

It was the first trip abroad by the Iranian president since United Nations sanctions on Iran were loosened earlier this month after it agreed to implement key restrictions on its nuclear program.

Francis and Rouhani met for 40 minutes, which The Wall St. Journal said was extraordinarily long compared with typical State meetings held by the Pope. Rouhani was accompanied by a 12-person entourage, including his foreign minister.

“I thank you for your visit and I hope for peace,” Francis told the Iranian leader at the end of a 40-minute meeting in the pope’s private study in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Reuters news agency reported.

Vatican Radio reported that Pope Francis and President Rouhani discussed bilateral relations, problems afflicting the Middle East area including the recently-signed Iran nuclear agreement and other international issues.

Iran is also part of the equation for a Syrian peace break through as it is seen as a key ally of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

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