Netanyahu meets Pope, talks tough on Iran

December 03, 2013 - 8:14:50 am
ROME: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Pope Francis yesterday as part of a visit to Rome during which he restated his firm opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran.

The two leaders addressed “the complex political and social situation in the Middle East, with particular reference to the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians”, the Vatican said in a statement.

The pope expressed a hope “that a just and lasting solution, which respects the rights of both parties, can be reached as soon as possible”, it said.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed in July after a three-year hiatus but have faltered due to Israeli plans for new settlement building.

Netanyahu’s audience with the pontiff lasted just 25 minutes. The Israeli PM gave the pope a book dedicated to “Pope Francis, a great shepherd of our common heritage”.

Francis is expected to travel to the Middle East next year and Israeli sources say the visit could take place before Israeli President Shimon Peres ends his term in July. Although no date has been made official, sources on both sides say it is likely to take place on May 25-26.

Israel and the Vatican first established full diplomatic relations in 1993, but have been engaged in years of thorny diplomatic negotiations over property rights and tax exemptions for the Catholic Church, which have yet to be fully resolved.

Netanyahu met later with his Italian counterpart Enrico Letta, and a joint press conference was expected to begin around 1400 GMT.

On Sunday, the Israeli premier attended a candle-lighting ceremony in Rome’s main synagogue, restating his firm opposition to an international nuclear deal with arch-foe Iran.

“It is very easy to receive a pat on the shoulder from the international community, to bow one’s head,” Netanyahu said.

“I would like to dispel any illusions. Iran aspires to attain an atomic bomb. It would thus threaten not only Israel but also Italy, Europe and the entire world,” he was quoted as saying on his website.

“There should be no going astray after the attack of smiles. Today there is a regime in Iran that supports terrorism, facilitates the massacre of civilians in Syria and unceasingly arms its proxies,” he said.

Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme for the next six months in exchange for limited sanctions relief following marathon talks in Geneva last month.

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