Pope replies to Iranian Prez on religious liberties

Ahmadinejad sought joint effort in fight against secularisation of societies.

Vatican City: Pope Benedict XVI has replied to a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that called for "close cooperation" in defending religious liberties, a Vatican spokesman said on Wednesday.

In his letter in October, the Iranian leader had called for a joint effort in the fight against the secularisation of societies and the "tyrannical structures that govern the planet”.

Ahmadinejad`s letter stressed that Iran considered "close collaboration and the development of bilateral relations with the Vatican" one of its priorities.

The Iranian President also thanked the Vatican for having "condemned the ill-considered attempt" by American pastor Terry Jones to encourage people to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Benedict`s reply was presented to the Iranian head of state yesterday by the cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Vatican spokesman Ciro Benedettini said.

Tauran was in Tehran for a conference co-organised by his ministry and the Islamic Culture and Relations Organisation (ICRO), a centre for inter-religious dialogue, Benedettini said.

Benedettini did not disclose the contents of Benedict XVI`s message, but confirmed it was a reply to Ahmedinejad`s letter, handed to the pope by Iran`s Vice President Mohammad Reza Mirtajoddini after a weekly general audience.