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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 June 2007, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Blair talks with Pope in Vatican
Tony Blair and the Pope
The two men spoke in private for about 20 minutes
Tony Blair has met Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican, amid fresh speculation the outgoing prime minister might be planning to convert to Catholicism.

The two men discussed Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, a Vatican statement said, making no mention of a change of faith for Mr Blair, who is an Anglican.

Downing Street declined to say whether the Pope expressed concern about Iraq.

Cherie Blair, who is Catholic, was with her husband and greeted the Pope after the 20-minute meeting.

Sainthood

This was Mr Blair's second visit to the Vatican in the past year.

Downing Street said the two men had "positive" talks.

The spokesman would not comment on whether the Pope had expressed concern about the situation in Iraq - as he did during talks with US President George Bush earlier this month.

Nor would he comment on Mr Blair's widely-predicted conversion to Catholicism.

The Pope and Mr Blair were joined after their talks by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster and the head of the Catholic church in England and Wales.

The Blairs gave the Pope a frame containing three period photographs of a famous British convert to Catholicism, Cardinal John Henry Newman, who died in 1890.

Cardinal Newman converted in 1845 and was later made a cardinal of the Catholic Church.

In 1991 he was declared "venerable", putting him on the road to Catholic sainthood.

After the Pope welcomed Mr Blair into the study, the prime minister told him he had just flown in from the European Union summit in Brussels where European leaders reached agreement on a deal to overhaul the 27-nation bloc.

"I heard it was very successful," the Pope told Mr Blair. "Yes, but it was a very long night. We finished up at 5.30 in the morning," Mr Blair said.

After his visit to the Vatican, Mr Blair had lunch at the English Catholic College in Rome, the first British government leader to do so.

'Nervous'

Speaking before his private audience with the Pope, he said the issue of his conversion to Catholicism was "unresolved".

Asked by the Times magazine if he would be converting, he said: "Things aren't always as resolved as they might be."

He said he was "nervous" discussing the issue before Saturday's meeting.

Mr Blair's audience with the Pope was the final foreign engagement of his "farewell tour". He is set to leave Downing Street on Wednesday.

Mr Blair said about the subject of conversion: "I don't want to talk about it. It's difficult with some of these things."

There is no constitutional barrier to such a conversion, which would have made Mr Blair the UK's first Catholic prime minister.

However, it has been suggested he would wait until after leaving office to avoid possible clashes such as over his role in appointing Church of England bishops.

Elena Curti of The Tablet, a Catholic newspaper, said Mr Blair's conversion was "an issue of conscience" for him and would be "a progression in his life and his journey of faith".

'Major announcement'

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown, warmly endorsed the White House-backed idea of Mr Blair acting as a Middle East envoy for the United States, the United Nations, Russia and Europe.

He praised Mr Blair's skills at bringing about "reconciliation", and said he still had a "great contribution to make" on the international stage.

Asked what he thought of the prospect, Mr Brown told BBC1's Politics Show: "Tony Blair has a great knowledge both of reconciliation, and how to make it happen as we found from Northern Ireland, and a great interest in the areas we were just talking about."

Sources in Mr Blair's camp have indicated that he would be making a major announcement on his post-Downing Street plans when he officially stands down on Wednesday.


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Tony Blair talks with the Pope



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