Pope, Saudi King to Hold Landmark Meeting

Roman Catholic head Pope Benedict XVI will meet Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah next week for talks expected to center on Christian-Islam relations, the Vatican said Wednesday.

The talks, the first between a Saudi monarch and a pope, will take place next Tuesday. Abdullah, currently in Britain, will be in Italy to meet government officials.

The Vatican does not have formal diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia and relations have been strained. The Vatican has often called for greater rights for the small Christian minority there.

The Christians, mostly guest workers, are not allowed to practice their faith in public, the Vatican says.

Furthermore, while Saudi Arabia has reportedly shown some progress in religious tolerance, the Sunni Muslim-dominated country is accused of promoting religious intolerance worldwide through its religious textbooks.

However, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom John V. Hanford III had noted last month that the Saudi government has made efforts to curb distribution of these religious literatures.

"We do see progress, but it's clear that there are still some intolerant references that remain," he commented, crediting Abdullah for "very publicly" calling for tolerance.

"He (King Abdullah)'s moving to create a more tolerant society that allows people of minority faiths to practice more freely," said Hanford during the release of the U.S. Department of State's 2007 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

Abdullah is currently on a state visit to Britain and met Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday.

The Saudi King's visit has sparked a number of protests, particularly after an interview earlier this week with the British Broadcasting Corp.

In the interview, Abdullah said Saudi Arabia passed on to Britain information that might have helped avert the July 2005 bombings that killed 52 people.

He accused London of failing to do enough to combat terrorism, saying: "We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain, but unfortunately no action was taken and it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy."

However, a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown has reported that no warnings were received before the July 7 attack.

"We made it very clear at the time that no specific warnings were received from any source," the spokesman said, according to media reports.

Christian Post reporter Ethan Cole in Washington contributed to this report.