Accessibility links

Breaking News

Bush Meets with Italian Leaders

President Bush is meeting with Italian officials and American Catholic leaders while in Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

President Bush paid a courtesy call on Italian President Carol Ciampi at Rome's Quirinale Palace, where they were joined by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former U.S. Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton.

The four, along with First Lady Laura Bush, make up the official U.S. delegation to the papal funeral.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the meeting with the Italian president covered a variety of subjects, including Middle East peace, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

But one subject that did not come up was last month's killing of an Italian intelligence officer by U.S. troops in Iraq following the release of an Italian journalist who had been held hostage by Iraqi insurgents.

U.S. officials say the killing was an accident and that the car carrying the Italians failed to slow down at an American checkpoint. The freed journalist says the car did slow down before soldiers opened fire.

Mr. McClellan told reporters in Rome that the Bush administration has previously expressed its regret over the incident, which is the subject of a joint investigation by Italian and American authorities. The spokesman says there will be more to say about the shooting once that investigation is complete.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Italian agent Nicola Calipari raised public pressure on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to withdraw Italy's 3,000 troops in Iraq.

Days after the incident, the prime minister announced he would start bringing those troops home in September. But following talks with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Berlusconi clarified that a withdrawal would only happen in consultation with allies and only when Iraqi security forces are sufficiently prepared to take on greater responsibilities.

Prime Minister Berlusconi is one of President Bush's biggest European allies in the war in Iraq. The prime minister is hosting a dinner for the president Thursday evening following a reception at the U.S. ambassador's residence for American cardinals, archbishops and bishops who are in Rome for the pope's funeral.

Following Friday's service, President Bush flies to his Texas ranch where he will spend the weekend before a Monday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.