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Putin to begin visit to Italy with a meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican

November 25, 2013, 4:02 UTC+3 MOSCOW

This is the Russian lrader's first visit to the Italian Peninsula within the 18 months of his tenure of office as Head of State

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MOSCOW, November 25, 2:32 /ITAR-TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin sets out on a two-day visit to the Vatican and Italy on Mondayl. This is the Russian lrader's first visit to the Italian Peninsula within the 18 months of his tenure of office as Head of State. Putin last visited Itsly in April 2010 in his capacity as the RF Prime Minister.

Presifential aide Yuri Ushakov told Itar-Tass that on Monday Putin is scheduled to visit the Vatican, and also meet in Rome with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Romano Prodi, ex-Premirr and UN Special Representative. On Tuesday, the Russian leader will visit Trieste, where Russo-Italian interstate consultations with Italian Head of Government Enrico Letta will be held.

According to the Kremlin official, on Monday Putin will meet for the first time with Pope Francis and Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

Efforts to settle the conflict in Syria will be among the themes of the conversations. "This trip is of special importance," Ushakov believes. He recalled that the Pope, prior to the G20 summit in St Petersburg in September, sent Putin a message in which he actively came out against a use-of-force option for settling the Syrian issue.

"The (Pontiff's) message served as a constructive background of the discussion of the Syrian crisis at the summit. An interesting and quite positive development of events ensued with due regard for the initiatives proposed by our President," the Assistant to the Russian President emphasized. Ushakov said, "It is meant that this theme will be touched upon during the audience with the Pontiff".

"Russia and the Holy See come out in favour of maintaining the priority of international-legal and moral principles in interstate contacts. Provision is made for 'comparing notes' on matters concerning a further coordination within the framework of international organizations such as the UN, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE. It is expected thats pecial attention will be devoted to the protection of the Christian heritage in North Africa and in the Middle East," Ushakov said.

He pointed out that during the meeting "no delivery of a message to the Pope from the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church is envisaged".

"This will be a third visit to the Vatican by the Russian Head of State since the estblishment of full-format diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2009," the presidential aide recalled. Putin had met with the predecessors of Pope Francis -- John Paul II in 2000 and 2003 and Benedict XVI in 2007.

Ushakov said Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis would converse one-on-one at first. Then officials who are members of the Russian delegation, specifically Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu, will be introduced to the Head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Ushakov pointed out that the forthcoming talks betwen Putin and the Pontiff would also deal with prospects for bilateral cooperation in the humanitarian and social spheres, and in the fields of science, education, culture and arts. The Russian leader is scheduled to meet with Napolitano and Prodi on Monday evening.

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