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Iranian President Hassan Rowhani is preparing to become the first leader of the Islamic republic to visit Europe for a state visit in over a decade amid criticism from his own judiciary about controversial comments he made last week. Rowhani is set to embark on the landmark visit to Italy this Saturday (November 14) before heading to France on Monday.
He is due to meet Pope Francis while in Italy after taking part in talks with Italian officials and businessmen during his trip. Rowhani accepted an invitation from Rome back in August and the visit could signify a gradual cooling of relations with the west.
Several European ministers have been to Tehran since the an agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear ambitions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in Vienna. But back home Iran's judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani was highly critical of Rowhani after the president made comments about the state media and the judicial system.
In July, France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, invited Rohani to visit Paris for what would be the first Iranian state visit to France since 1999. France had been a key broker in the P5+1 countries that agreed the deal in Austria.
According to Al-Arabiya Rowhani said in a speech on Monday: "You learn from some publications who will be arrested tomorrow, what is going to be closed down tomorrow, which individual's reputation should be damaged." The government must be criticised, the judiciary must be criticised, the parliament must be criticised. But criticising does not mean smearing, insulting or lying."
The comments came just days after four journalists were arrested by intelligence officers and accused of having links to foreign governments. In response, Larijani said: "The president made several comments, notably that justice must be a refuge for society, and that if the salt becomes rotten, the task becomes difficult.
"One wonders what he means by that. Could the response be that if the government is rotten and if the president is corrupted that the task becomes difficult? If the meaning is that justice is corrupt this is libelous, if not it is still an insult."
Last week Iran revealed plans to ban the entry of U.S. consumer goods as the country prepares for economic sanctions to be lifted as part of the Vienna deal. The lifting of economic sanctions against Iran is in exchange for destroying much of its stocked uranium.