Pope Meets with Shimon Peres, Says He Wants to Visit Israel
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Pope Meets with Shimon Peres, Says He Wants to Visit Israel

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Pope John Paul II has accepted an invitation from Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to visit the Jewish state, but no date has been set.

The timing of the visit is linked to progress in the Middle East peace talks, according to reports from Rome.

It would be the second visit by a Catholic pontiff since the 1964 journey to Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI.

Peres met with the pope at the Vatican for 45 minutes Friday, as the two sides prepared to advance negotiations on normalizing relations that were begun three months ago.

Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin heads the Israeli team to talks with Vatican representatives in Jerusalem next month on moving toward full diplomatic ties.

Peres told reporters it would take up to two years to achieve the establishment of diplomatic relations.

He said Israel would not agree to the Vatican demand for special international status for the Old City of Jerusalem. He said he believed the Vatican was impressed by Israel’s serious approach in guaranteeing religious freedom in Jerusalem, making international guarantees unnecessary.

Friday’s meeting was Peres’ second with the pope. The two met in 1985 when Peres was prime minister. The pontiff reportedly told Peres that he prayed daily for the peace of the world, and particularly for Israel’s need for peace. He voiced concern over a new wave of anti-Semitism in a number of countries.

In a weekend radio interview, Peres said Israel was “on the road” toward full diplomatic relations with the Vatican, although “in the Catholic Church, things move very slowly.”

Peres said his visit signaled good will toward 800 million Catholics worldwide and would help encourage Christian pilgrimage to Israel.

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