May 27 2008 Reuters
ROME (Reuters) - Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has asked for an audience next week with Pope Benedict which would be the first meeting between the two leaders, a diplomatic source said on Tuesday.
Ahmadinejad is among the heads of state expected to visit Rome to attend a June 3-5 United Nations summit on global food security, hosted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Vatican sources said earlier this week that it was not yet clear if the pope would meet individual heads of state attending the U.N. event or hold a collective audience for them in order to save time.
The Vatican has criticised Ahmadinejad for calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.
The Holy See has diplomatic ties with Iran and Pope Benedict has met Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. The pontiff has repeatedly encouraged dialogue to resolve differences over Iran's disputed nuclear programme, which the West says is aimed at making nuclear bombs.
Italy's foreign ministry has already ruled out the possibility that conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will hold bilateral talks with the Iranian leader, saying there will not be enough time.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; writing by Phil Stewart; editing by Andrew Roche)
Vatican, Israel report 'substantial' progress in talks
Published: May 28, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI arrives in St Peter's Square in the Vatican for his weekly audience. Israel and the Vatican have made "substantial progress" towards resolving financial and legal issues following 14 years of on-and-off negotiations, a joint statement said Wednesday. (AFP Damien Meyer)
VATICAN CITY (AFP) Israel and the Vatican have made "substantial progress" towards resolving financial and legal issues following 14 years of on-and-off negotiations, a joint statement said Wednesday.
A permanent bilateral working committee met at the Vatican on Wednesday in "a climate of great cordiality," said the statement, underscoring "significant, even substantial progress" achieved in the talks.
The two sides have been negotiating over the legal status of the Roman Catholic Church in Israel, notably the disposition of Church property and tax exemptions for revenue earned by Christian communities.
The issues remained unresolved following a basic accord signed by the two states in 1993.
The Holy See wants exemption from all taxes for the Church and its institutions.
Talks resumed in 2004 after a 10-year hiatus and have since proceeded intermittently.
Israel has made repeated assurances that the accord is near completion, while the Vatican has been less sanguine.
"We hope that we will reach a solution in the next 13 years," joked Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for the Eastern Churches, after the committee's last meeting in December 2007 in Jerusalem.
Veglio recalled that a visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Israel at the invitation of the Hebrew state was contingent on the finalisation of the accord.
A previous meeting of the joint committee, in May 2007, concluded with "important progress."
While contacts continue, the panel will hold its next formal meeting in December.
© 2008 Agence France-Presse