Monday, 7 May 2007

Pope Benedict meets ex-Iranian President Khatami

In a bid to renew "serene dialogue" between cultures and to promote peace in the Middle East, Pope Benedict has met with Iran's former President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami.

According to a Holy See statement, the pope and Khatami discussed "the conditions and the problems of Christian communities in the Middle East and in Iran".

"In relation to the situation in the Middle East, the need for strong initiatives of the international community was stressed in order to start serious negotiations that take into account the rights and interests of all, respecting international laws and with the knowledge that it is necessary to re-build reciprocal trust," the statement continued.

Vatican sources said that the meeting took place in the pope's library and that it lasted over 30 minutes.

AdKronos International reports that Mr Khatami also met Vatican secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone at the presence of the secretaryfor relations with states Dominique Mamberti.

In remarks made before his talks with the pope, Khatami, a moderate Muslim Shiite cleric, said the talks "must first of all heal open wounds." He also expressed the wish that "common efforts will enable to heal relations between the Catholic Church and the Muslim world."

Khatami was referring to the controversial speech by the pontiff on 12 September 2006 at Germany's Regensburg University interpreted as linking Islam to violence.

The protests in the Islamic world sparked by the speech led to the postponement to this week of the seminar on inter-religious dialogue at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, originally scheduled earlier last year, which the former Iranian president attended Friday before meeting the pontiff.

The seminar was organised by the university in cooperation with the Iranian embassy to the Holy See and was attended by leading clerics and researchers from North African countries, Lebanon and the US.