U.S. President George Bush and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi have met in Rome for talks on Lebanon, Iran, and Kosovo. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports Mr. Bush met earlier in the day with Pope Benedict.

President Bush thanked Prime Minister Prodi for sending Italian troops into southern Lebanon last year to bolster the truce between Israel and Hezbollah.

Now, Mr. Bush says, the United States and Italy must make sure the democratically-elected government in Beirut survives. One of the best ways to do that, he says, is to push ahead with a United Nations investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, killed in 2005.

"I do think it is an important measure for all of us to see the truth in that part of the world," he said. "I know we can continue to work together. It is very important that foreign influences like that of Syria not be continually disrupting the Siniora government."

Syria denies any involvement in political killings in Lebanon.

Following lunch at the Chigi Palace, Prime Minister Prodi said he and President Bush agree that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

"We don't want them to exceed the limits, as it were, of a peaceful and monitored or controlled use of nuclear technology," he said.

President Bush says he and the prime minister agree it is time to push ahead with independence for Kosovo. That is a move long-resisted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Mr. Bush says he discussed the issue at this week's G8 summit in Germany.

"I had a long discussion with Vladimir Putin on the subject," he said. "To share with you my thoughts, what I told him there at the table is, "It's time. It's time to bring this issue to a head." And obviously there is deep concern about what that would mean, whether he would accept that or not. I understand that. But the Kosovars are eagerly anticipating a decision by the world."

On Friday, an Italian court opened a trial into the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's alleged kidnapping of a Milan-based Egyptian cleric four years ago. Twenty-six Americans, mostly CIA agents, are being tried in absentia. The indictment says the cleric, known as Abu Omar, was flown to Egypt where he says he was imprisoned and tortured.

The trial judge has postponed the proceedings while Italy's Constitutional Court considers the case.

Prime Minister Prodi says the issue did not come up in Saturday's talks with President Bush.

Earlier in the day, the president and first lady visited the Vatican for their first audience with Pope Benedict.

President Bush says the pontiff expressed concern about the fate of Iraqi Christians.

"He was concerned that the society that was evolving would not tolerate the Christian religion, and I assured him that we are working hard to make sure that people live up to the constitution, the modern constitution voted on by the people that would honor people from different walks of life and different attitudes," he said.

A Vatican statement says the men also discussed efforts to stop the spread of AIDS, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Latin America, and Africa - particularly the humanitarian suffering in Sudan's Darfur region.

President Bush continues his European tour with visits to Albania and Bulgaria before returning to Washington Monday.