CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 25, 2005 ( Benedict XVI received Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in audience and requested that his country's constitution, still being drafted, respect religious freedom.

After the audience with the Pope today, the Iraqi also met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, reported Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office.

"During the talks, the current situation in Iraq was reviewed, with particular reference to the text of the constitution, which has been presented for the approval of the National Assembly, and to the important topic of religious freedom," said the Vatican spokesman.

"Later it was emphasized that the reconstruction of the institutions must take place in a climate of dialogue, which will involve all the religious groups and the different components of society," concluded Father Benedettini.

The Iraqi official's visit to the papal summer residence in the hills south of Rome took place a few hours before the National Assembly's self-imposed deadline to surmount the differences over the proposed constitution.

Subsequently, the parliament said it had no plans to gather before its deadline and had no date for a future session, indicating that factions in Iraq were failing to agree on a new constitution.

The first draft of the constitution established that Islam is the official state religion, and barred any legislation that contradicts its established rules.

Christians in Iraq number 800,000, or 3% of the population, divided between Catholics and Orthodox.