Pope Benedict XVI has reportedly canceled meetings with seven world leaders to avoid encountering Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Forty heads of state, including Ahmadinejad, will arrive in Rome on Tuesday for a United Nations summit on the global food crisis. The meeting comes as soaring food prices have pushed at least 22 countries to the brink of catastrophe.
The Telegraph reports that Pope Benedict wished to avoid the publicity that would have accompanied a one-on-one meeting with the Iranian president.
President Ahmadinejad was reportedly eager to meet with Pope Benedict.
The Vatican reportedly considered a single audience for all the heads of state, but decided to refuse all requests to avoid any potential embarrassment. The presidents of Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia, as well as several African leaders, had asked for a papal meeting.
According to the Telegraph, Iranian spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham confirmed that the Vatican had refused all meetings, adding that Iran had never formally requested a meeting.
Another controversy-causing person who will reportedly be in attendance is Robert Mugabe. The leader of Zimbabwe has presided over the devastation of the economy that was once known as the “bread basket of Africa.” The embattled president is able to attend the summit because it is being held under the auspices of the U.N., which makes his status as a persona non grata in the EU not applicable.