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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin, Pope Meet at Vatican City

APPresident Vladimir Putin greeting Pope Benedict XVI before a meeting at the Vatican on Tuesday. The meeting was expected to focus on ways of easing tensions between the Catholic and Orthodox churches and on finding common ground on moral issues. Putin is
VATICAN CITY -- President Vladimir Putin and Pope Benedict XVI met Tuesday in the highest-level Kremlin-Vatican talks in more than three years, a meeting that was expected to focus on ways of easing tension between Catholics and Orthodox Christians and finding common ground on moral issues.

The meeting -- the first between Benedict and Putin -- is part of a visit that takes the president to Italy and Greece this week. Putin arrived at the Pratica di Mare air base near Rome on Tuesday afternoon.

Tensions with the Russian Orthodox Church have stood in the way of a papal visit to Russia. The Russian church accuses Roman Catholics of improperly seeking converts in areas that traditionally would be Russian Orthodox. The Vatican has rejected the accusations, saying it is only ministering to Russia's tiny Catholic community of about 600,000 people in a country of 144 million.

Long-running property disputes between the churches have also put both sides at odds with each other. The late Pope John Paul II's dream of going to Moscow was thwarted by lack of agreement with the Orthodox Church leadership.

Putin's predecessors, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, invited John Paul to Russia. Putin, in two meetings at the Vatican with John Paul, did not issue any such invitation.

Putin last visited the Vatican in November 2003.

The pope's envoy to Russia called the meeting "a significant event" that should help Catholic believers in Russia.

"In this sense, it seems clear that the priority isn't identifying with a visit by the Holy Father to Moscow, but in progress in dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox," Archbishop Antonio Mennini told the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire.

On the Orthodox side, the Russian church's representative for European affairs, Bishop Hilarion, said that both Russia and the Vatican "have much to do together to defend traditional moral values."

He also told Interfax that a meeting between Benedict and Patriarch Alexy II would depend on "an understanding of key issues. ... We first need to solve the existing problems."

Catholic officials have suggested that a meeting of the two leaders could take place first in a third country.

After the meeting at the Vatican, Putin is scheduled to hold talks with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. On Wednesday, the president travels to the Adriatic city of Bari at the head of a delegation that includes foreign and economics ministers.

The talks with Prodi were expected to focus on the future of the Kosovo province, Iran's contentious nuclear program, the Middle East conflict and Russia's relations with the European Union, Prodi's office said. The Bari meeting is also to have a strong focus on business deals as the two countries move to improve already strong economic ties.

Putin then travels to Athens, where he is scheduled to attend a Greece-Russia-Bulgaria summit.

n Digital Multimedia Technologies, which makes equipment for television transmissions, will form a joint venture with Russian state television RTRN to help develop digital TV in the country, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

Digital Multimedia will invest 200 million euros ($260 million) in the next five years on the development of digital TV, the two companies said today at a news conference in Rome.