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 CNS Story:

POPE-IRAQ Aug-25-2005 (280 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope meets with Iraqi foreign minister, discusses constitution

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI met with Iraq's foreign minister on the day of the deadline for Iraqi political leaders to agree on a new constitution.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari met with Pope Benedict Aug. 25 at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, and with the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, in the Vatican.

The Vatican said discussions centered on the current situation in Iraq, including how the draft constitution, which was still awaiting approval by Iraq's National Assembly, would guarantee the freedom of religion.

In a written statement released Aug. 25, Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, Vatican spokesman, said talks with the pope and at the Vatican "made particular reference to the text of the constitution" and "to the important subject of religious freedom."

Some church leaders in Iraq are concerned the draft constitution's reference to Islam as the source of all laws for the country might translate into discrimination against Christians and other religious groups.

Father Benedettini said the talks among the pope, Cardinal Sodano and Zebari underlined the idea that the rebuilding of Iraq "must come about in an atmosphere of dialogue that involves all religious groups and various segments of society."

The same day, political leaders in Iraq were due to submit the final draft of a new constitution that would be voted on by the country's National Assembly and in a national referendum by mid-October.

Shiite and Kurd negotiators had agreed on a final draft, while Sunni representatives criticized provisions on federalism, which the Sunnis fear would lead to too much control by the Shiites in the South and the Kurds in the North.

END


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