VATICAN CITY, JUNE 7, 2002 ( John Paul II addressed the issue of Muslim-Christian relations at the first-ever papal audience with a Malaysian Prime Minister in the Vatican.

"The present state of Church-state relations in Malaysia was discussed, as well as mutual cooperation for the promotion of dialogue between culture and religions, with a particular consideration of the cultural links between Islam and Christianity," said a Vatican press statement issued after today´s audience with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

After the audience, the Malaysian leader met Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and with Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states.

During the meetings there was "an exchange of opinions on current international questions, particularly those regarding Southeast Asia and the Middle East," the statement explained. It was signed by Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican Press Office.

"The meetings that took place today mark the first time in history that a Prime Minster of Malaysia met with the Holy Father and the highest officials of the Holy See," the text stated.

The Vatican and Malaysia do not have diplomatic relations. Of Malaysia´s 22 million inhabitants, 53% are Muslim, 17% Buddhist, 7% Hindu and 6.4% Christian.

Catholics number about 730,000, divided in eight ecclesiastical circumscriptions. The Vatican is represented before the local Church by an apostolic delegate.