Russia's foreign minister invites Vatican counterpart to Moscow

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov invited his Vatican counterpart to visit Moscow later this year amid efforts to improve relations between Russia and the Holy See, the Vatican said Tuesday.

The Vatican said in a statement that the invitation to Vatican Foreign Secretary Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo was aimed at the "further development" of cordial relations between Russia and the Holy See.

The invitation, announced after a meeting at the Vatican between Lavrov, Lajolo, and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, follows a pledge by Pope Benedict XVI last month to make healing strained ties with the Orthodox Church a "fundamental" commitment.

The statement was welcomed by Russian Orthodox leaders. Benedict's predecessor John Paul II long sought to visit Russia, a move that was blocked by the Russian Orthodox Church, which accused the Catholic Church of aggressively poaching for converts after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Lavrov was to meet his Italian counterpart later Tuesday for talks expected to focus on economic ties between the two countries.

Also on the agenda of the talks in Rome between Lavrov and Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco were the U.N. Security Council reform, Iraq and Kosovo, the Italian Foreign Ministry said. Political and cultural cooperation would also be discussed.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have developed close personal ties, and Italy is one of Russia's most valued European partners.

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