Benedict-Abdullah Talks First For Pope, Saudi Monarch (Update1)

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) — Pope Benedict XVI and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah today held “cordial” talks, the first meeting between a pontiff and a leader of the kingdom and a step toward establishing diplomatic ties between the two states.

The 30-minute conversation “provided an opportunity to consider questions close to the heart of both sides,” the Vatican said in a statement published on its Web site. “In particular, the commitment to inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue aimed at peaceful and fruitful coexistence between individuals and peoples was reiterated.”

The Vatican devoted a front-page column to the talks in its newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and stressed that dialogue between Roman Catholicism and Islam had become a “necessity.” The visit comes less than a month after 138 Muslim scholars wrote an open letter to 28 Christian leaders, inviting them to find the “common essentials of our two religions.”

King Abdullah is also known to Muslims for his role as protector of Islam’s holiest sites, in the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina. He is in Rome as part of a European tour and will meet with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi late today.

Saudi Arabia is one of nine majority-Muslim countries with which the Holy See doesn’t have diplomatic relations. In Saudi Arabia, Christians aren’t allowed to worship in public, churches are outlawed, and crucifixes and copies of the Bible can’t be brought into the country.

Benedict has been trying to heal relations with Muslims since he gave a speech in his native Germany in September 2006 in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who linked Islam with violence. The comments sparked protests by Muslims worldwide. On a four-day trip to Turkey in December, Benedict’s first to a mostly Muslim nation, the pope turned toward Mecca during a visit to a mosque.