France is reportedly refusing to host a working lunch for visiting Iranian president Hassan Rouhani because the hardline Muslim leader demanded halal meat and a wine-free table. The two were scheduled to meet next week during an Iranian state visit to Paris.
The meal has now been cancelled because the Iranians would not eat at a table that was “offensive to their Muslim values”. For its part, 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 secular republican values and was non-negotiable, it has been reported.
The Elysee instead suggested a breakfast meeting as a counter-offer, but this was then reportedly rebuffed by the Iranians as being “too cheap”.
A diplomatic source told French news site RTL: “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.”
The two heads of state are still set to meet for two hours of talks on November 17th – but not at the dinner table.
The row recalls a 2009 incident, when the 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.
The visit of Rouhani was announced in Tehran by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in July, two weeks after the nuclear deal brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama was struck between the Islamic republic and world powers.
Acknowledging much had to be done to improve the relationship between Tehran and Paris however, Fabius said both nations stood to benefit from recent diplomacy.
“We are two great, independent countries, two great civilizations. It is true that in recent years, for reasons that everyone knows, the ties have cooled but now thanks the nuclear deal, things will be able to change,” he said.