Egyptian president meets Pope Francis, Italian premier on 1st day of Europe trip


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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis and the Egyptian president exchanged warm greetings during a private meeting Monday in which the pontiff emphasized Egypt's role in establishing peace in the Middle East.

Francis and Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi met for about 20 minutes at the Vatican on el-Sissi's first visit to Europe since taking office in June. Francis shook el-Sissi's hands, declaring his happiness at meeting the Egyptian leader, while el-Sissi expressed through a translator his pleasure at meeting "the great man that you are."

The two men also exchanged gifts: A papal medallion and a papal document "The Joy of the Gospel" for el-Sissi and an inlaid silver box with a mirrored lid for Francis.

The Vatican said the meeting focused on the need for dialogue to bring an end to the conflicts in the region as well as promote peaceful co-existence, religious freedom and inter-religious dialogue.

El-Sissi met later with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, with the two leaders affirming their commitment to fighting terrorism and establishing stability in the Mediterranean region.

Renzi identified Libya, mired in conflict, as key to tackling both issues, as well as immigration as the point of departure for the vast majority of smugglers' boats bringing migrants to Italy.

El-Sissi meets Tuesday with Italian and Egyptian entrepreneurs before heading to Paris. His visit was expected to focus on investment, fighting terrorism and the flow of migrants from conflicts in the Middle East and Africa toward Europe.

(A previous version of the story corrected the transliteration of the Egyptian president's name to el-Sissi instead of al-Sisi, per AP style.)

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