Pope will not meet Ahmadinejad

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Rome, Jun. 2, 2008 (CWNews.com) - Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) will not hold private meetings with any of the heads of state who are in Rome this week for a meeting of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), informed sources at the Vatican report.

By avoiding all meetings with visiting world leaders, the Vatican could sidestep diplomatic pressure for a papal audience with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian government has confirmed that Iran’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mohammad Javad Faridzadeh, had requested a papal audience for Ahmadinejad. For several days before that formal request, Iranian diplomats had been energetic in suggesting that Ahmadinejad would like to speak with the Pontiff.

In the past, visiting heads of state have arranged courtesy visits with the Pontiff while attending other events in Rome. But the heavy international pressure on Iran made it difficult to arrange such a meeting for Ahmadinejad without suggesting Vatican support for the controversial Islamic leader. Iran has repeatedly sought to enlist Vatican support, in its bid to resist pressures from US.

Several other government leaders will be in Rome for this week's FAO meeting. Last week the Argentine government announced that President Cristina Kirchner will meet with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (bio - news), the Vatican Secretary of State, rather than with the Pontiff. Kirchner's government has been seriously at odds with the Catholic hierarchy in Argentina, so in her case, too, a papal audience could have involved political complications.

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