VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis on Tuesday met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and asked Tehran to work with other Middle East states to promote peace and stop the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking in the region.

A Vatican statement issued after the meeting spoke of the "relevant role Iran is called on to play" to find political solutions to the problems afflicting the Middle East.

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Shi'ite Muslim Iran is the strongest ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while European countries back his mainly Sunni Muslim opponents in the five-year-old civil war.

Many Western nations accuse Iran of funding various militant groups that they deem to be terror organizations.

Rouhani and the pope spoke for 40 minutes in the pontiff's private study in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace and then the president held talks with top Vatican diplomats.

The Vatican said the discussions in both cases included "the important role that Iran is called on the play, along with other countries in the region, to promote adequate political solutions to the problems that afflict the Middle East, combating the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking".

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