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Obama has 50-minute meeting with Pope Francis

US president set to have talks with Napolitano, Renzi

27 March, 11:51
Obama has 50-minute meeting with Pope Francis (ANSA) - Vatican City, March 27 - United States President Barack Obama started a packed series of official engagements in Rome on Thursday when he had a 50-minute meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican.

"Welcome Mr President," the pope said as he greeted Obama.

"Thank you, thank you' were the first words Obama said to the Argentine pontiff. The smiling president had a long, warm handshake with the pope before bidding farewell.

Before the meeting, Obama told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that he would illustrate to the pope "the initiatives that we are taking to create jobs, increase salaries and overall incomes and help families to keep going". Francis has won plaudits for his simple, humble style and his focus on the poorest and weakest since being elected the head of the Catholic Church last year. 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.

Next on his schedule is a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the presidential palace.

It will be the fifth such meeting between the two president, 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''. The face-to-face meeting will be followed by a working lunch that will include US Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, Ambassador Phillips, and Italy's ambassador to the US, Claudio Bisogniero.

Obama then have talks with Premier Matteo Renzi at the Renaissance-built Villa Madama, where Italy often receives international guests.

He will also tour the Colosseum, which will be off-limits to the public beginning at 13:00 local time, as will the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, police said.

Obama will also tour the Colosseum, which will be off-limits to the public beginning at 13:00 local time, as will the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, police said.

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 river 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 over its annexation of the Ukraine peninsular of Crimea. He arrived in Rome from Brussels, where he is attended an EU-US summit and meet with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Obama was last in Italy in 2009, when he attended a G8 summit of industrialized nations in the city of L'Aquila.