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The New Arab

Boost Middle East economy to beat extremism: Iran president

The Vatican meeting was a key part of urrent Iranian diplomacy [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 January, 2016

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Iran wants to become a major exporting nation following the lifting of international sanctions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday, adding that economic growth was crucial to defeating extremism.

President Rouhani of Iran is on a four-day visit to Italy and France, where he is looking to rebuild Iran's ties with the West and promote his country as a pillar of strength and stability in an increasingly fraught and fragmented region.

The Iranian leader met Pope Francis Tuesday, joining in a cordial discussion which touched on the recent nuclear accord and Iran's role in the region. 

The Vatican in a statement said the conversation delved into the nuclear accord recently taking effect and "the important role that Iran was called to play" to combat terrorism along with other countries in the region.   

Iran was also urged to help fight arms trafficking, the Vatican said.   

After the meeting, Iran's president asked Pope Francis to pray for him. The Vatican meeting was a key part of an Iranian effort to take a more prominent place on the world stage after a nuclear deal with Western powers.  

Italy unveiled some 17 billion euros ($18.4 billion) of deals with Iran on Monday and mega contracts are also in the offing in France, with EU countries anxious to cash in on the recent end of sanctions following last year's nuclear accord.

"We are ready to welcome investment, welcome technology and create a new export market," Rouhani told a business forum on the second day of his stay in Rome, saying that Iran wanted to become a regional economic hub. 

"Under the new conditions, we want to export 30 percent of what we produce in Iran."  

Italian leaders have called on Iran to help the West defeat the extremist group Islamic State, which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria.

"If we want to combat extremism in the world, if we want to fight terror, one of the roads before us is providing growth and jobs. Lack of growth creates forces for terrorism. Unemployment creates soldiers for terrorists," the Iranian leader said. 

Iranian meddling

Many Western nations have accused Iran of funding various militant groups, and despite the nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran last year, the United States is keeping some of its financial sanctions in place.

Last week, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation slammed Iranian "interference in the region" during a meeting of foreign ministers in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah.  

The body also condemned Iranian protesters sacking of Saudi diplomatic missions in the country, which "breached diplomatic norms".

Iran, which is also a member of the Islamic group, dismissed the OIC's charges, and Lebanon "distanced" itself from the final statement.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia erupted on 2 January when a senior Shia cleric - Nimr al-Nimr - was executed in Riyadh.
 
Most Gulf countries and some Arab League members also broke ties with Iran at the start of the year.
 
However, the group also urged calm between Saudi Arabia and Iran and that Islamic countries should end sectarian discourses and look to fight terrorism together.
  
Iran, which agreed to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for an end to economic sanctions, is eager to carve out a bigger role in mediating Middle East conflicts. 

However, Gulf states are also wary of Iran's role in supporting the Syrian regime and contributions to militias in Iraq that are suspected of numerous war crimes in campaigns against the Islamic State group.

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