Netanyahu to Meet Pope in Italy

YERUSHALAYIM (AP/Reuters) -

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu plans to meet with the pope on a trip to Italy next week.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican next Wednesday. Israeli President Shimon Peres, who serves in a largely ceremonial position, met the head of the Catholic church in April.

A statement Wednesday from the prime minister’s office announcing the scheduled meeting said Netanyahu will also meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the trip. The two will discuss ongoing talks about Iran’s nuclear program and negotiations with the Palestinians.

The Vatican and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1993.

Also on Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas invited Pope Francis to visit the Holy Land.

“I invited him to the Holy Land,” Abbas said after a 30-minute private audience with the pope in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, their first meeting.

At the meeting, the pope gave Abbas a pen, telling him, “Surely you have a lot of things you have to sign.”

Abbas responded: “I hope to sign a peace treaty with Israel with this pen.”