The French Say Non to Wine-Free Official Dinner With Iranian Leader

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French President Francois Hollande raises a glass for a toast during a Tastevin confraternity induction ceremony at the Chateau Clos Vougeot, in the Burgundy wine region
François Hollande defends liberté, one glass at a time.Photo: Philippe Wojazer/REuters/Corbis

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is set to embark on a historic tour of Europe this weekend, including a visit to Paris, where French officials recently canceled a dinner engagement between Rouhani and French president François Hollande due to dietary requests. President Rouhani’s staff requested a meal with halal meat and absolutely no wine.

The French quickly counteroffered petit déjeuner, to no avail. The Iranians felt it seemed too “cheap.”

Religious conservatives in Iran are wary that photo ops showing their president present for a meal with alcohol and non-halal meats (yes, frogs’ legs and escargot are both a no-no) could suggest too much of an openness toward the West.

The two sides have settled on a face-to-face chat between the two leaders sans food altogether.

Next week’s meeting will be a key event for a visit focused on rapprochement between the two nations. French diplomats drew a particularly hard line during the final phases of negotiation that led to Iran’s historic nuclear deal earlier this year. Representatives of French industry believe that Iranian businessmen hold a lingering resentment toward them because of this, which has kept them from negotiating deals on equal footing to their European counterparts.

For the French, the fight over whether to pop a bottle of wine is indicative of a deeper uneasiness with Islamic culture: Think of the headscarves war, not to mention Michel Houellebecq. Last year, conservative politicians lashed out against the growing popularity of Turkish-style kebab stands among French citizens.