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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 13:01 GMT
Vatican-Muslim talks due in Italy
Pope Benedict XVI. File photo
The Pope has sought to improve relations since his Regensburg talk
Vatican and Muslim officials are due to meet in Rome to lay the foundations for landmark Catholic-Islamic talks later this year.

Senior figures from each religion will discuss details of the planned talks, due to involve Pope Benedict XVI.

Catholic-Muslim relations soured after a 2006 speech in Germany, in which the Pope quoted a 14th Century Byzantine emperor's criticisms of Islam.

The Regensburg speech provoked Muslim fury and triggered protests worldwide.

But it also prompted 138 Muslim scholars from 43 countries to launch an appeal to the Pope for greater theological dialogue, called the Common Word.

Since then the number of signatories to the appeal has grown to more than 200.

Wider dialogue

The two-day talks in Rome mark the start of a process which - it is hoped - will lead to the larger meeting, which is likely to take place either at the Vatican before the summer, or at the Pope's summer residence, south of Rome, in August.

We must try, together with the Pope, to get on a path of dialogue on issues confronting humanity today
Sergio Yahe Pallavicini
Vice President of Italian Islamic Religious Community

"Now there is a need for deeper dialogue on doctrine, theology and the character of religions in today's world and the challenges we face," Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, a member of the Muslim delegation, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"We must try, together with the Pope, to get on a path of dialogue on issues confronting humanity today," said Mr Pallavicini, Vice President of the Italian Islamic Religious Community.

One of the subjects to be discussed at the summit later this year will be terrorism, reports say.

Although Pope Benedict repeatedly expressed regret for the reaction to his speech in Regensburg, he stopped short of the clear apology sought by Muslims.

But the BBC's Frances Kennedy in Rome says the Vatican is now clearly convinced of the need for a wider, if more difficult, dialogue with Islam.

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