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Powell, Pope John Paul II Meet Next Week

May 30, 2003

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Secretary of State Colin Powell and Pope John Paul II are to meet Monday for the first high-level U.S.-Vatican talks since the pontiff criticized the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

The church and the Bush administration see the meeting as a sign their relationship was not damaged by the disagreement on the war.

John Paul said an attack without United Nations support would be illegal and morally wrong, and he became a rallying point for global opponents of the war.

Cardinal Pio Laghi, a former papal envoy to the United States, dismissed suggestions relations with Washington were harmed by the disagreement. Laghi, a friend of the Bush family, carried a personal appeal from the pope to the U.S. president in the hours preceding the war.

``There is nothing to unfreeze because no layers of ice have built up in these months,″ he said in an interview Friday with the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire.

Powell’s planned visit ``only strengthens the relationship, which remains solid,″ said the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, James Nicholson.

He said the Bush administration and the Vatican work together in a number of fields ``because of our shared values,″ including religious freedom.

The pope made his views clear Friday when addressing Japan’s new ambassador, saying the international community must be ``permanently mobilized″ against terrorism and nuclear threats without ``harming the fundamental needs of the civilian populations involved, leading them on occasion to misery and despair.″

Powell is scheduled to meet with the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, after his private meeting with the pope.

Reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Washington’s efforts to proceed with a peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians are expected to top the agenda.

Powell is scheduled to arrive in Rome on Sunday from St. Petersburg, Russia, where President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin plan to hold talks.

Before his stop at the Vatican, Powell is scheduled to meet with his Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini. Premier Silvio Berlusconi put Italy in the coalition of nations supporting the war, offering political support and the use of bases and airspace but no troops.

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