Tony Blair meets Pope

Tony Blair has had a private audience with the pope at the Vatican as he continues his official visit to Rome following a holiday in Italy.

It was the first meeting between the prime minister and Pope Benedict XVI, who succeeded John Paul II last April.

Mr Blair is thought to have used the talks to stress the importance of moderate religious leaders working together in order to tackle extremism and terrorism.

The prime minister emphasised the role of the international community in combating issues such as poverty and raised concerns about the current economic challenges facing Africa, during his audience with the pope.

A Downing Street spokesman speaking before the meeting said Mr Blair would be interested to hear the pope’s views on “key foreign policy issues”, stressing that the Vatican was an “influential player on the world stage”.

“In particular he will want to discuss with the pope inter-faith relations and how best inter-faith dialogue can help with conflict resolution and how the moderate voices of the world’s main religions need to work together to tackle and confront extremism and terrorism,” the spokesman said.

“He also wants to stress the importance of the international community – including governments, international institutions, religions and other parts of civil society – working together to deal with the big global challenges such as the threat to security but also issues like trade, poverty and climate change.”

In Mr Blair’s last papal audience in 2003, the late Pope John Paul expressed his misgivings about the war in Iraq, on the eve of the conflict.

Talks between the prime minister and new Italian premier Romano Prodi this week included discussions about the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq.