Bush Meets With Pope, Discusses Iraq, Africa

President Bush (left) met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on June 9, 2007.

President Bush (left) met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on June 9, 2007. Plinio Lepri/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Plinio Lepri/AFP/Getty Images

President Bush met for the first time with Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday, where the two discussed the war in Iraq, the U.S. humanitarian record, aid to Africa and the situation in Darfur.

After posing for photos, Benedict asked the president about his meetings with G-8 leaders in Germany - the pontiff's homeland. Then, the topic changed to international aid.

"I've got a very strong AIDS initiative," Bush said, sitting with Benedict at a small desk in the pope's private library at the Vatican.

The president promised the pope that he would work to get Congress to double the current U.S. commitment for fighting AIDS in Africa to $30 billion over the next five years.

The pope also asked the president about his meeting in Germany with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has expressed opposition to a U.S. missile shield in Europe.

"The dialogue with Putin was also good?" the pope asked.

Bush, eyeing photographers and reporters who were about to be escorted from the room, replied: "Umm. I'll tell you in a minute."

The pontiff gave the president a drawing of St. Peter's Basillica, an official Vatican medal and coins. "It's beautiful, thank you," Bush said of the drawing.

The president gave the pope a rare edition of an autobiography of John Carroll, the first archbishop in the United States and founder of the Roman Catholic Church in America. Bush also gave the pope lithographs of documents from the National Archives and a walking sticking made by a former homeless man in Dallas, Texas. Bush also has one of the white sticks, which are inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Bush's visit was met with heavy security. Thousands of police deployed in downtown Rome to counter demonstrations by anti-globalization groups and against Bush's meetings with the pope and Italian officials.

The White House deputy press secretary, Dana Perino, shrugged off the anti-Bush protests. "That is what democracy is all about," she said. "He understands not everybody is going to agree with him."

In a statement, the Vatican said Bush had "warm" talks with the pope and the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. They discussed international politics, particularly in the Middle East, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, the "worrisome situation in Iraq" and the "critical conditions in which the Christian communities (in Iraq) are found," the statement said.

The pontiff expressed his hope for a `'regional" and `'negotiated" solution of conflicts and crises that afflict the region, the Vatican said. Attention was also give to Africa, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and Latin America.

They also discussed moral and religious questions relating to human rights and religious freedom, the defense and promotion of life, marriage and the family and sustainable development, the Vatican said.

Bush arrived in Rome Friday night, after a stop in the Czech Republic, three days at a summit of industrialized democracies on Germany's northern coast, and a quick, three-hour visit to Poland.

A stomach ailment forced Bush to miss a few meetings at the summit in Germany, but Perino said the president, while "not 100 percent," was feeling better.

The president stays in Rome Saturday night before going on to Albania and Bulgaria.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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