Bush pledge over embryo research
ROME, Italy (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush says he will take Pope John Paul II's rejection of stem cell research using embryos into consideration when he decides whether to allow funding for the controversial practice.
"He's sent a consistent word throughout the Church, and throughout society, that we ought to take into account the preciousness of life," Bush said at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during his first state trip to Italy.
During his visit, Bush met Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and the pope, as well as discussing economic trade and bilateral ties with Berlusconi.
John Paul II addressed the issue of stem cell research using embryos at a press conference after a 35-minute meeting with Bush at the pontiff's summer home, Castel Gandolfo, south of the Italian capital
"A free and virtuous society which America aspires to be must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage of conception until natural death," the pope said.
"In defending the right to life ... America can show the world ... (that) man remains the master not the product of his technology."
Bush in turn expressed his admiration for the pontiff. "Where there is oppression you speak of human rights, where there is poverty you speak of justice and hope," he said.
"Where there is ancient hatred, you defend and display a tolerance that reaches beyond every boundary of race and nation and belief."
Later, at the press conference with Berlusconi, Bush said that John Paul had not raised stem cell research during their private session, but had instead focused on foreign policy and Bush's meeting on Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But he added that his decision on whether to grant federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is the most difficult choice he has to make, because of the dilemma between moral issues of creating human embryos to produce stem cells and the promise from doctors and scientists the research will save human lives.
He expressed his respect for the pope's stand, saying: "I frankly do not care what the political polls say. I do care about the opinions of people, particularly someone as profound as the Holy Father."
Like the two Republican presidents before him -- his father George and Ronald Reagan -- Bush sees eye to eye with the pope on some moral issues, particularly abortion.
The Clinton administration and the Vatican clashed openly over abortion at the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo.
But it is not thought that the death penalty -- for which the pope has called a worldwide ban -- was directly raised at the meeting between Bush and the pope.
When Bush was Republican governor of Texas, 152 executions took place during his nearly six years in office, the highest rate in the United States.
The trip to Rome is the third stop on Bush's tour following a visit to London and his visit to the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy.
He is accompanied by his wife, First Lady Laura Bush, and their daughter Barbara, 19. Though Methodists, like the president, the Bush women followed Catholic tradition and covered their hair with black lace mantillas for the audience.
On Tuesday, Bush makes his final stop on his six-day tour in Kosovo, where he will visit Camp Bondsteel in Pristina, where some 5,000 U.N. and NATO-led KFOR troops are stationed.
U.N. and KFOR commanders are expected to brief Bush before he addresses the troops on the camp's parade grounds and dines with them.
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