Ahmadinejad to visit Rome in first Europe trip
ROME (Reuters) - Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to make his first trip to Western Europe as president next week when he attends a U.N. conference in Rome on global food security, Italy's government said on Wednesday.
Iran has not announced Ahmadinejad's travel plans, but the Italian Foreign Ministry said the Iranian leader had already advised Rome that he intends to come for the June 3-5 summit.
Although Iran's nuclear ambitions are not on the agenda, Ahmadinejad's appearance alongside leaders including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon make it likely the nuclear issue will come up at media events or on the summit's sidelines.
Other leaders expected to attend the event include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Italy's conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has ruled out a bilateral meeting with Ahmadinejad, the foreign ministry said, citing time constraints.
Western leaders fear Iran aims to build atomic weapons and the United Nations has hit Tehran with three rounds of sanctions since 2006, demanding it cease nuclear enrichment activities. Tehran has refused, saying its nuclear program is peaceful.
It would be Ahmadinejad's first major appearance in the West since traveling last year to New York, where he addressed the U.N. General Assembly and spoke at Columbia University.
He visited Belarus in May 2007.
A diplomatic source said the Iranian leader has requested an audience with Pope Benedict.
Vatican sources said earlier this week it was not yet clear if the pope would meet individual heads of state attending the U.N. event or hold a collective audience for them to save time.
The Vatican has criticized Ahmadinejad for calling for Israel to be wiped off the map and the pope has repeatedly encouraged dialogue to resolve differences over Iran nuclear program.