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Benedict XVI and the president of the Palestinian Authority today discussed peace in the Middle East and a state for Palestine with internationally recognized borders.

Mahmoud Abbas visited the Pope today at the Vatican, going on to meet with the Holy Father’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states.

According to a Vatican communiqué, the “central issue of the cordial conversations” was peace in the Holy Land.

“Particular stress was laid on the urgent need to find a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one capable of ensuring respect for the rights of all and, therefore, the attainment of the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations for an independent State,” the communiqué announced. “It was thus reiterated that soon the State of Israel and the Palestinian State must live in security, at peace with their neighbors and within internationally recognized borders.”

The outlook for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is looking particularly bleak as recent attempts at international mediation from the United States met with failure.

But the Pope and Abbas today spoke of a “spirit of cooperation and openness to reconciliation” as the presupposition for the Holy Land coming “to know peace.”

More problems

The Vatican statement also reported that Abbas and the Holy Father considered the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East, which are dwindling due to emigration caused by situations of persecution.

“Mention was made of [Christians’] irreplaceable contribution to the building up of society,” the Vatican communiqué noted.

“Finally,” it said, “the hope was expressed that the work of the Delegations of the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organization may proceed fruitfully towards the elaboration of a comprehensive agreement between the parties.”

Talks on this agreement resumed last December, after a Basic Agreement was signed in 2000.