VATICAN CITY, NOV. 10, 2005 ( The Iraqi Constitution guarantees the rights and freedom of the nation's Christians, President Jalal Talabani told Benedict XVI.

The country's constitution, and the scourge of terrorism, were the main topics of the talks between the Pope and Talabani, who was received in audience today in the Vatican.

In statements published by AsiaNews, Talabani later said that the Holy Father referred to the Iraqi Constitution as "progress."

For his part, the president said he assured the Pope that the rights and freedom of Iraqi Christians will be guaranteed.

The meeting between the two men took place in an atmosphere that those present described as "very cordial."

As on other similar occasions, it started with a private audience of about 20 minutes followed by a public session during which gifts were exchanged and the members of the two delegations were introduced.

The Holy See has not published any official statement on the issues addressed in the audience.


President Talabani gave the Bishop of Rome a picture, which he was unable to hand to him personally, as he forgot it in the car, a "small inconvenience that did not affect the cordiality of the meeting," commented Vatican Radio.

After his meeting with the Pope, Talabani met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

The Iraqi president told the press afterward that he was "very grateful" to have met the Pope, who also gave his blessing to Iraq and Iraqis.

"I brought him up to date about the situation and talked to him about the elections and the constitution," Talabani said. "He told me that he thought the constitution was progress and a good thing. He also said that he was following events in Iraq and that he prayed for Iraqis. I assured him that every freedom will be guaranteed to Christians."

Talabani also said that Wednesday's terrorist attacks in Amman, Jordan, "were a crime, like those committed against Iraqis."

"In Jordan, there are groups that back terrorism. The attack will help the country understand the true nature of terrorism, which kills our brothers, women and children," he said, adding that he sent a message of solidarity to King Abdullah of Jordan.

Meanwhile, Friday's Italian edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reported a suicide attack in a restaurant in Baghdad, which left 35 dead and more than 20 wounded.