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Ahmadinejad May Meet With Pope Benedict XVI


Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is reported to be seeking a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI when he visits Rome next week for a U.N. summit on global food shortages.

The Italian daily Il Messaggero says the Vatican has agreed to Mr. Ahmadinejad's request for a papal audience.

Church officials have not yet confirmed the meeting. They have said it is not clear whether Benedict will be able to meet separately with all heads of state attending the U.N. meetings, but that there could be a collective or group audience for visiting leaders.

News reports about Mr. Ahmadinejad's plans quote a diplomatic source as saying that the Iranian president wants to brief the pope about Iran's position on unspecified international disputes - presumably including Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government has already indicated Italian officials will avoid any bilateral meeting with the Iranian leader during the three-day food summit. Meetings hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization begin June 3.

The pontiff has called for continued diplomacy to resolve the stand-off over Iran's nuclear program. Tehran says its aims are peaceful, but the the United States and other Western powers are concerned that Iran's efforts might be intended to develop nuclear weapons.

Mr. Ahmadinejad and the pope have never met before, although the head of the Roman Catholic Church has met previously with Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki. The Vatican and Iran have maintained diplomatic ties for more than 50 years.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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