Pope holds ’special’ meeting with Bush (Lead)

June 13th, 2008 - 11:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Vatican City, June 13 (DPA) Pope Benedict XVI broke with normal Vatican protocol Friday to welcome US President George W. Bush for talks in a medieval tower. The pontiff stood several minutes waiting for Bush in the Vatican gardens outside the Tower of St John - an unusual sight since normally it is guests who wait to be received by the pope.

The move, the Vatican indicated, was intended to reciprocate Bush’s gesture - rare for a US president - when he went to a Washington airport to greet Benedict for the pontiff’s arrival in the US in April.

“In order to respond to the cordiality of the welcome received by the Supreme Pontiff during his recent visit to the US, the audience followed a special protocol,” the Vatican said in a statement after the meeting.

The pontiff normally receives high-profile guests in his study located in the Apostolic Palace, overlooking St Peter’s Square, including his meeting with Bush in June 2007.

On Friday, Bush, accompanied by his wife Laura, arrived in a motorcade which made its way slowly through a tree-lined avenue after entering Vatican City.

Benedict greeted the presidential couple warmly and then posed for photographs with them and the US Ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon.

They then entered the round-shaped tower and took an elevator to one of the upper floors where Bush and Benedict began their private talks.

“The discussions were held on the relations between the US and Europe, the Middle East and efforts for peace in the Holy Land, globalisation, the food crisis and international trade,” the statement said.

Benedict and Bush also discussed the achievement of the UN’ eight Millennium Development Goals - whereby world leaders have promised among other things to make substantial progress by 2015 in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and promoting gender equality.

Benedict has in the past lamented what he says is the slow progress being made to achieve these goals.

Following their private meeting, the pontiff and the president admired Rome’s splendid skyline from the top of the tower and then descended for a stroll in the Vatican gardens amid palm trees, trimmed hedges, and firs.

Laura Bush joined her husband and the pontiff at the end of the walk when they sat for a performance by members of the Sistine Chapel’s choir.

Benedict and Bush also exchanged gifts. The pope presented the president with a four-volume history of the Vatican, while Bush presented a silver-framed photograph of the two taken during the pontiff’s April visit to Washington.

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