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Pope to meet top US diplomat Blinken

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This photo taken and handout on January 6, 2021 by the Vatican Media shows Pope Francis holding a live streamed Angelus prayer for the Epiphany, from the library of the apostolic palace in the Vatican. (Photo by Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP) /

Pope Francis will next week meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the pontiff’s highest-ranking talks yet with the new US administration, officials said Friday.

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Blinken, on a tour of Europe, will see both Pope Francis and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the pope’s de facto foreign minister, on Monday at the Vatican, a State Department spokesperson said.

Francis has spoken in support of some key goals of President Joe Biden’s administration, including stepping up the fight against climate change and showing compassion towards refugees.

The Vatican also played a key role in the behind-the-scenes diplomacy by the last Democratic administration under Barack Obama in normalising relations with Cuba, a process reversed by former president Donald Trump.

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Trump had an at times difficult relationship with Francis, who during the mogul’s 2016 run for president criticised his push to build a wall on the US border with Mexico.

The pope notably declined to meet Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, shortly before last year’s election, fearing being used for Trump’s political benefit.

Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, had spoken out against Francis over a 2018 agreement that gives Beijing a say in the naming of Chinese bishops by the Vatican.

Biden is a devout Catholic and his administration, while also sharply critical of China’s human rights record, has steered clear of commenting on the Vatican’s relationship with Beijing.

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