Pope Francis has urged Iran to back peace efforts in the Middle East as the country's emergence from international isolation took a step forward with President Hassan Rouhani's first visit to the Vatican.

Fresh from securing the lifting of international sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear programme, Rouhani spent 40 minutes at the Vatican on Tuesday talking privately to Pope Francis, a strong backer of the deal with Tehran.

In a statement afterwards, the Vatican said Francis had urged the Iranian leader to use Iran's important role to promote, together with other countries, "adequate political solutions" to the problems afflicting the region and to help combat terrorism and arms trafficking.

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"I thank you for your visit and I hope for peace," Francis told his guest at the end of their meeting, when journalists were briefly allowed to listen in.

A smiling Rouhani, who presented the pope with a handmade carpet from the ancient city of Qom, replied with one of Francis' catchphrases.

"I ask you to pray for me," he said. "It was a pleasure to meet you and I wish you well in your work."

The Vatican pontiff in turn bestowed a medal depicting St Martin giving his cloak to a shivering man, saying the gesture represented a sign of brotherhood.

The two leaders highlighted the "importance of inter-religious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace", the  Vatican said .

The last time when leaders of the two communities met was when Pope John Paul II received former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami in 1999.


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Rouhani is on a five-day trip to Italy and France looking to drum up trade and investment to modernise Iran's economy, partly by pitching the country as a beacon of stability in a conflict-wracked region.

Earlier on Tuesday, Rouhani met Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, along with a 120-strong delegation, to promote business worth billions of dollars between the two nations.

"Now we have created the conditions for investment and for the transfer of know-how," he said.

"There has to be an advantage for both sides: we invite you to invest and we will provide stability and ensure that you can make adequate returns."

Source: Agencies