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Pope, Russian Foreign Minister Meet

January 16, 2001

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Despite increasingly warm relations, the Vatican and Russia avoided the sensitive issue of a papal visit to Moscow during meetings Monday.

``We didn’t discuss this question today,″ Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters.

Ivanov capped off his three-day visit to Italy with a papal audience, then a meeting with his Italian counterpart, Lamberto Dini.

A visit to Moscow is one of the unfulfilled goals of John Paul’s 22-year papacy but tensions between Roman Catholics and the Russian Orthodox that have heightened since the fall of communism have blocked such a visit.

It appeared neither Ivanov nor the pope wanted to chill what the Vatican called a ``particularly warm″ meeting by raising the question of a visit to Moscow.

Instead, they focused on what the Vatican statement called a ``convergence″ of views on many international issues, particularly the Middle East.

The Vatican raised its long-standing view that the sites holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews in Jerusalem must be protected by an international statute.

The Vatican had already expressed satisfaction over its good relations with the Russian government during a meeting at the Vatican in June between the pope and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ivanov said those sentiments were echoed during his papal audience and that the pope expressed his interest in a ``stable, democratic and economically strong″ Russia.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II has been the chief stumbling block to a papal visit. Long-standing theological divisions have been worsened by Catholic missionary activity since the fall of communism in traditionally Orthodox Russia.

For the Vatican, an invitation issued by then-President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 still stands.

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