Obama meets Renzi, Napolitano, Pope on busy day in Rome

Premier receives president at Renaissance Villa Madama

(see related stories) (ANSA) - Vatican City, March 27 - United States President Barack Obama met Premier Matteo Renzi for talks on Thursday after meeting Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Pope Francis earlier in the day. Renzi, Italy's youngest premier at 39, greeted Obama at the Renaissance Villa Madama, where Italy often receives international guests.
    The US president spent over two hours, longer than scheduled, in talks and lunch at the presidential palace.
    It was the fifth meeting between the two presidents, after one in Rome and three in Washington DC. The two are known to have a cordial relationship, with the White House calling Napolitano ''a good friend''. Obama started a busy day of engagements with a 50-minute meeting with Francis in the Vatican.
    The two discussed "questions of particular relevance for the Church...such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform," a Vatican statement said. A "common commitment to the eradication of human trafficking" was also discussed by the pair during their "cordial meeting," the statement said. Religious rights and freedom has been an issues in the U.S., where some bishops have clashed with Obama's administration over abortion as well his health-care measures.
    Obama asked the pope to pray for his family and invited him to Washington to see the White House garden. The president made the invitation after giving the pope a custom-made box of seeds.
    "These I think are carrots," he said, holding a pouch.
    "Each one has a different seed in it... If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well," he added, referring to the famous vegetable garden tended by his wife Michelle. "Why not?" the pope replied in Spanish.
    Obama landed in Rome late on Wednesday and spent the night at the 15th-century Villa Taverna, the residence of US Ambassador John R. Phillips.
    He will also tour the Colosseum on Thursday, which has been sealed off to the public, along with the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill.
    Obama is set to leave Italy early on Friday.
    Italy has deployed 1,000 police in the capital to watch over the American president as well as any other potential targets, such as embassies. The bomb squad is also afoot, with dog units combing the presidential itinerary, while river police scour the Tiber near St. Peter's Basilica and the Holy See.
    Throughout the visit, Obama's motorcade will be watched over by a helicopter and by snipers placed on every building along the route. The president is being escorted at all times by an estimated 200 US special forces and military personnel, including marines.
    Obama's visit to Rome and the Vatican is his next-to-last stop in a week-long international mission to the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, the Holy See, and Saudi Arabia.
    His trip has already included international talks at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, at which the United States and other members of the G8 suspended Russia from the group of leading industrialised nations over its annexation of the Ukraine peninsula of Crimea. He arrived in Rome from Brussels, where he attended an EU-US summit and met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
    Obama was last in Italy in 2009, when he attended a G8 summit in the city of L'Aquila.