Published June 04, 2008
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has requested a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, a diplomatic source told The Australian newspaper on Tuesday. A meeting between the political and spiritual leader would be a first.
Ahmadinejad, who has previously called for Israel to be wiped off the map, is among the heads of state expected to attend the June 3-5 United Nations summit on global food security in Rome.
Sources at The Australian that it is unclear whether the pope will meet directly with state leaders attending the U.N. summit or if he will instead hold a single gathered event.
The Vatican has previously criticized Ahmadinejad for his scathing remarks toward Israel.
The pontiff has repeatedly encouraged diplomacy as a means of resolving the standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear program, which the Israel and the U.S. believe is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
Italy's foreign ministry says conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declined to hold bilateral talks with the Iranian leader, saying there will not be enough time, The Australian reported.
Ahmadinejad is currently at odds with Iran's new reformist parliament due to growing social and economic unrest.
In addition, the Iranian president is under fire worldwide for his comments on the destruction of Israel, his "suspicions" of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and his belief that homosexuals deserve to be executed and/or tortured.