British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Pope Benedict XVI have had private talks at the Vatican, fueling speculation that Mr. Blair might convert to Catholicism after he leaves office next week.

After the talks Saturday, the two were joined by the head of England's Roman Catholics, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and later by the prime minister's wife, Cherie.

The Blairs presented the pontiff with photographs of 19th-century English Cardinal John Henry Newman, who converted from the Church of England to Catholicism.

After the Vatican visit, Mr. Blair had lunch at the British Catholic College in Rome -- the first serving prime minister to do so.

A Vatican statement said the pope and Mr. Blair discussed international issues, including the Middle East and the future of the European Union. It made no mention of the conversion issue.

Mr. Blair is Anglican, while his wife and their four children are Catholics. The British leader regularly attends Catholic Mass with his family.


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