Obama, Pope Hold Private Talks
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
President Obama ended the G-8 Summit in Italy today with a warning. Mr. Obama told reporters in the city of L'Aquila that full recovery from the global recession is still a ways off. And earlier today at the Vatican, he met for the first time with Pope Benedict.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: The picture speak the loudest: the tall, young, new American president smiling broadly and very visibly at ease, standing alongside the stooped-back elderly pontiff wearing ornate lace and satin vestments.
By granting the president an unusual afternoon audience, the Vatican broke with its rigid tradition, a sign analysts say of the Vatican's keen interest in President Obama's views. In an official statement, the Vatican said their discussions ranged from the Middle East and immigration to interfaith dialogue and development aid. The president told Benedict, we look forward to a very strong relationship between our two countries.
The pope gave Mr. Obama not only a copy of his recent encyclical on ethics and economy, but also a document on bioethics, in which the Vatican explains its opposition to practices such as artificial fertilization.
While the new president has come under harsh criticism from some American bishops for his positions on abortion, birth control, and stem cell research, the Vatican has been much more positive in early assessments of his administration. And today, Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the pope was very impressed by the president and that the pontiff was extremely satisfied with the talks. Lombardi also said Mr. Obama told the pope of his commitment to reduce the number of abortions.
The president has often said his policy is aimed at changing the economic and social conditions of women, so they don't feel abortion is their only choice. In his briefing for reporters, presidential advisor Dennis McDonough said the president was very touched by the visit. He added that on some issues, the pope and the president can disagree without being disagreeable.
Earlier, in his closing press conference at the end of the G-8 Summit, Mr. Obama acknowledged that after 35 years, the G-8 format could use some updating and be widened to include emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil. He said he believes the United Nations needs to be reformed and revitalized.
One of the key G-8 issues was development aid for Africa and other poor regions. The president said the leaders agreed to invest $20 billion in agriculture development programs, and said wealthier nations have a moral obligation to provide assistance.
President BARACK OBAMA: The flipside is, is that countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the world that are suffering from extreme poverty have an obligation to use the assistance that's available in a way that is transparent, accountable, and that builds on rule of law and other institutional reforms that will allow long-term improvement. There is no reason why Africa cannot be self-sufficient when it comes to food.
POGGIOLI: When asked why the G-8 leaders failed to agree to sanctions against Iran, the president said they had never been on the table. He said the real story was that they all agreed to voice concern over the recent elections and Tehran's violent crackdown. He said Iran's posture toward negotiating the cessation of a nuclear weapons policy will be re-evaluated at a G-20 meeting in September.
President OBAMA: That's been always our premise, is that we provide that door but we also say we're not going to just wait indefinitely and allow for the development of a nuclear weapon, the breach of international treatise, and wake up one day and find ourselves in a much worse situation and unable to act.
POGGIOLI: The last leg of the president's trip takes him to Ghana before he returns home on Sunday morning.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.