U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin met Jan. 14, focusing their discussions on the Middle East, the Syrian conflict, the Sudan situation and religious freedom issues in the U.S.

"The encounter was extremely fruitful and rich in content," said Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., of the Vatican Press Office.

He characterized the one hour, forty minute meeting as "very important" and "intensive."

"The mood of the meeting was a positive one. It was a constructive encounter, an important one and the length of time it lasted is indicative of its underlying significance."

Kerry is on an international diplomatic tour to promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, Vatican Radio reports. He is also working for the success of the Geneva 2 Conference for peace in Syria, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 22.

Fr. Lombardi said the meeting centered on Middle East issues, especially the conflict in Syria. The Syria conflict between rebels and the government has killed more than 100,000 people while internally displacing 6.5 million people. Over 2.3 million registered refugees from Syria are living in nearby countries.

The U.S. is backing the rebels and has periodically threatened military strikes against the government. In September Pope Francis led a worldwide vigil for peace in Syria after the U.S. said the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons justified military action. The U.S. later backed down after Russian president Vladimir Putin proposed that the Syrian government give up all chemical weapons.

Fr. Lombardi said the meeting voiced a desire for a peaceful solution in Syria and for humanitarian aid for the conflict's victims.

The meeting also discussed negotiations between Israel and Palestine "in an effort to encourage, pursue and hopefully achieve the aspired for positive result."

The"increasingly dramatic" situation in Sudan was also a subject of discussion. The participants voiced hope that the new violence may be ended by mediation.

U.S. domestic issues also drew attention. According to Fr. Lombardi the Holy See "expressed its concern, shared by the bishops of the United States, regarding rules regulating the health reform relating to guaranteeing freedom of religion and conscientious objection."

The Health and Human Services mandate requires most employers to provide employees coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause abortion. The mandate's narrow religious objection means that many Catholic organizations and Catholic-run businesses are being forced to assist in providing drugs and procedures that violate Catholic beliefs or face heavy fines.

The mandate is currently being litigated in court. President Obama's efforts to combat poverty were also discussed at the meeting.

The meeting included Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Holy See's Secretary for Relations with States, and U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett. Three staff members of Kerry and two officials of the Roman Curia also attended.