President Yeltsin met with the Pope early in the evening and the two talked for nearly an hour. Only two interpreters were present for the conversation-- an indication not only that the meeting was private, but also that both parties wished to choose their words quite carefully, since Pope John Paul speaks adequate conversational Russian.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls said the conversations took place in a climate of "lively cordiality." Yeltsin repeated an invitation--first issued by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989--for the Holy Father to visit Moscow. Such a visit is unlikely to take place in the near future, however, because the Russian Orthodox Church has said that a papal visit would only increase tensions between the two Churches.
While the Pope spoke with Yeltsin, the Russian foreign minister, Evgeni Primakov, had a meeting with Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the chief foreign-policy official at the Vatican. Their conversation included some discussion of the new religious laws in place in Russia, and their impact on Catholic parishes. They also spoke about "the threats to peace in the Middle East" and in particular the situation in Iraq.
Yeltsin was accompanied on his visit by 45 people, including his wife Naina and their daughter Tatiana. As a gift for the Pope, he offered a specially bound Russian-language translation of the Pope's own poems.