Syrian President Bashar al-Assad started a three-day visit on Tuesday to Italy and the Vatican, which includes discussions with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Pope John Paul II, reported AP.
The Middle East situation, where violence keeps erupting, and the US-led global campaign on terrorism are expected to top the agenda of the visit, which also includes talks with Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, government officials and business leaders.
It is the first visit to Rome by the Syrian President and his first to Europe since the September 11 attacks against the United States.
President Bashar al-Assad has already met with John Paul II during the Pope’s visit to Damascus in May. On that occasion, al-Assad delivered a very blunt speech, comparing Israelis to betrayers of Jesus, which drew condemnation from Israel and the United States.
Assad will meet John Paul at the Vatican on Thursday, while the talks with Berlusconi are scheduled for Wednesday.
Both Italy and the Vatican support Palestinian rights. John Paul, who has often appealed for peace in the Mid-east region, has also emphasized that Israel's security needs must be respected.
In an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera over the weekend, al-Assad cautioned the United States on its ongoing war against terrorism, saying it risks backfiring in ways that could actually assist extremists. In addition, he warned Washington against striking Iraq - one of the options the Bush administration said it is considering to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Meanwhile, the Vatican's Number Two official said Monday the Church wants to help Israelis and Palestinians live together, each in their own state.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's Secretary of State, spoke after meeting with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and urged Rome to help seek peace in the Holy Land, saying international pressure was necessary.
"We have to quickly bring an end to this situation, giving the right to two states to exist, the state of Israel and the state of Palestine," Sodano expressed. "We must help these two people to live together," he added.
The issue will certainly come up during discussions later this week between Pope John Paul II and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is making an official visit to Italy and the Vatican. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )