Egypt's Mubarak meets Italian leaders

Egypt's president has held talks with Italy's prime minister after the Middle Eastern leader began a three-country European tour that will take in Germany and Austria.

    Mubarak and Berlusconi discussed Middle East issues

    Hosni Mubarak is the most prominent Arab leader to visit the continent after recent Muslim anger over the European cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
      
    The Egyptian leader paid a courtesy visit to Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the Italian president, shortly after his arrival in Rome on Thursday at the start of a 24-hour visit, before heading into discussions with Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister.
      
    Officials said the two leaders discussed the troubled situation in Iraq, international disquiet over Iran's nuclear programme, and the Middle East peace process after Hamas' victory in Palestinian elections.
      
    Mubarak has just returned from a trip to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait and will be in Berlin over the weekend for talks with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.
      
    Vienna meeting

    On Sunday, he is to have talks with Wolfgang Schussel, the Austrian chancellor, in Vienna. Austria is the current president of the European Union.
      
    Italian media reports said Mubarak would return to Rome on  Monday on his way back to Cairo for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

    Egyptian officials said Mubarak views the meeting, which has yet to be confirmed by the Vatican, as an important encounter because he sees the pope as important to efforts to defuse the tensions between two of the major world religions.

    European cartoons of the Prophet
    Muhammad enraged Muslims

    The talks are expected to focus on developing closer inter-faith ties. It would be Mubarak's first meeting with the new pope.

    He met with Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, six times.

    The president is being accompanied by Ahmed Abul Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister; Mohammed Rachid, industry minister; and Anas el Feki, information minister.
      
    Mubarak's meeting with Merkel on Saturday will focus on the Palestinian Authority after the election victory in January of the Islamist resistance group Hamas, said Thomas Steg, the German government's deputy spokesman.
      
    He will meet Horst Koehler, the German president, on Friday.

    SOURCE: AFP


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