Sunday, 10 June 2007

ROME - President Bush, denounced by tens of thousands of anti-American protesters on the streets of Rome, defended his humanitarian record on Saturday to Pope Benedict XVI, who expressed concern about "the worrisome situation in Iraq." (picture: Bishop Harvey escorts Bush into Vatican)

The president went to the Vatican for his first meeting with the pope, who has lamented the "continual slaughter" in Iraq and concluded that "nothing positive comes from Iraq."

The pope asked Bush about his talks in Germany with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time of deep strain between Moscow and Washington. "The dialogue with Putin was also good?" the pope asked.

"I'll tell you in a minute," Bush said, mindful of the presence of reporters and television cameras during the photo opportunity. They both laughed.

"I was talking to a very smart, loving man," Bush said later of his discussion with the pope. "I was in awe and it was a moving experience."

Bush apologized for disrupting traffic as his motorcade moved through Rome under heavy security. The president received a splashy Vatican welcome. Television cameras recorded his every move as Bush walked through marbled Vatican halls to the pope's private library. The president and pope talked for 35 minutes. Afterward, Laura Bush, wearing a black mantilla head covering, joined the president and pope.

The president said the pope expressed concern that the Muslim majority in Iraq was intolerant of Christians. A Vatican statement said Bush, in talks with the pope and the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, discussed the "worrisome situation in Iraq" and the "critical conditions in which the Christian communities (in Iraq) are found," the statement said.

Bush said the United States is pressing Iraq — torn by sectarian violence — to live by a constitution "that would honor people from different walks of life and different attitudes." He said there was no discussion whether Iraq was a "just war."

Bush, who took ill Friday, was still suffering some effects of a stomach problem.


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