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Pope and Powell Discuss Post-War Iraq

Pope and Powell Discuss Post-War Iraq

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VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope John Paul II and Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the reconstruction of Iraq on Monday during the first high-level U.S.-Vatican talks since the pontiff voiced opposition to the war.

The two men met alone in the pope's study for 30 minutes, twice as long as scheduled. A statement issued by the Vatican did not mention that the pope condemned the Iraq war as lacking legal or moral justification.

The reconstruction of Iraq "must be able to count on the cooperation of the international community, and give particular attention to fundamental rights, such as the right to religious freedom," the Vatican said in the statement that followed the meeting.

Powell and John Paul appeared relaxed in a brief session with photographers after they met.

"How is the president?" the pope asked Powell during the session. "Give him my best regards."

Powell and John Paul also discussed U.S.-led efforts to forge a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians with a plan, known as the "road map" that envisions two separate states.

Before the meeting, both sides had stressed the U.S.-Vatican relationship was solid despite differences over the war in Iraq.

Immediately before receiving Powell, John Paul met with the new Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, using the occasion to press the Vatican's position that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be resolved only "when there are two independent and sovereign states."

The pope, in receiving Ambassador Oded Ben-Hur, encouraged the Israelis and Palestinians to make progress in this week's talks with President Bush.

Powell also met with the Vatican's secretary of state and foreign minister before leaving for the Middle East, where top-level Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab leaders will be involved in talks with the U.S. administration.

Earlier, Powell said he hoped to take advantage of a "window of opportunity" over the next two days of meetings on moving a new Middle East peace plan forward, saying he was optimistic the talks would produce strong statements from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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