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President Putin, Pope Benedict Hold Talks at Vatican


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Benedict XVI met Tuesday in the highest-level Kremlin-Vatican talks in more than three years. The meeting was the first between Mr. Putin and the German pontiff. Sabina Castelfranco has more for VOA from Rome.

The private meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Benedict at the Vatican lasted at least 25 minutes.

A statement issued afterward by the Vatican said the talks, conducted in the pope's native German, were very positive. It added that the two leaders touched on relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The Russian president also was said to have brought the pope greetings from the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II.

Tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and Rome have until now stood in the way of a papal visit to Russia, which was always a fervent, but never realized, wish of Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

The Russian church has accused Roman Catholics of improperly seeking converts in areas of Russia that traditionally would be Russian Orthodox. The Vatican has rejected the proselytizing accusations.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the subject of a visit by the pope to Russia was not discussed.

The Vatican statement Tuesday evening also said that international issues were discussed between the pope and President Putin, including the situation in the Middle East. The statement called extremism and intolerance "grave threats to peaceful coexistence among nations" and urged a "negotiated and peaceful resolution" of conflicts.

Mr. Putin arrived at the Pratica di Mare air base near Rome on Tuesday afternoon. Speaking before the Russian leader's arrival, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo d'Alema described relations between Italy and Russia.

"We believe that working with Russia and working together without preconceived ideas is a strategic choice of our country, a choice which is not only useful to Italy, but to Europe and useful to security, peace and international stability," he said.

Following his meeting with the pope, President Putin held talks with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. The discussions were to focus on the future of the Kosovo province, Iran's nuclear program, the Middle East conflict and Russia's relations with the EU.

On Wednesday, the Russian president will be traveling to the southern Adriatic city of Bari as the head of a Russian delegation that includes foreign and economics ministers. The Bari bilateral summit is expected to have a strong focus on business deals as the two countries move to improve already strong economic ties.

Accords between Italy and Russia are expected to be signed on a range of issues, from energy and banking to the adoption of Russian children.

Putin then travels to Athens, where he is scheduled to attend a Greece-Russia-Bulgaria summit.

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