Iran's Ahmadinejad requests meeting with pope

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during the opening session of Iran's new parliament, in Tehran May 27, 2008. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

ROME (Reuters) - Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has asked for an audience next week with Pope Benedict which would be the first meeting between the two leaders, a diplomatic source said on Tuesday.

Ahmadinejad is among the heads of state expected to visit Rome to attend a June 3-5 United Nations summit on global food security, hosted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Vatican sources said earlier this week that 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 in order to save time.

The Vatican has criticized Ahmadinejad for calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.

The Holy See has diplomatic ties with Iran and Pope Benedict has met Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. The pontiff has repeatedly encouraged dialogue to resolve differences over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at making nuclear bombs.

Italy’s foreign ministry has already ruled out the possibility that conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will hold bilateral talks with the Iranian leader, saying there will not be enough time.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; writing by Phil Stewart; editing by Andrew Roche