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President Trump Meets Pope Francis At The Vatican


Two powerful men with vastly different styles and many disagreements met today at the Vatican. And at least one of them is raving about the experience. President Trump told reporters his meeting with Pope Francis was great.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He is something. He is really great. We had a fantastic meeting, and we had a fantastic tour.

SHAPIRO: The Vatican described the discussions as cordial. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith was at the Vatican and joins us now from Brussels where the president went after Rome. Hi, Tam.


SHAPIRO: There's always a certain amount of ceremony when a head of state is received by the pope. What was it like today for President Trump?

KEITH: So I was positioned in Clementina Hall, and that is one of several rooms and hallways that President Trump walked through to reach where the pope was. There were these gorgeous frescoes on the ceiling and walls depicting angels. And then the president and first lady and their entourage were escorted by senior Vatican officials, and they walked by slowly. There were Swiss guards posted, wearing their brightly colored uniforms. And then that is where my in-person view actually ended (laughter). You know, that's how it works. But I can tell you that when the president emerged from his 30-minute private meeting in the pope's study, he thanked Francis, and he said, quote, "I won't forget what you said."

SHAPIRO: Any idea what he said that Trump was referencing there?

KEITH: No idea at all. We've been trying to figure that out. There are some clues. Trump's Twitter account posted a video, and it said that it was one of the greatest honors of his life and that he's more motivated than ever to create peace in the world. According to the White House, they talked about how the U.S., the Vatican and the international community can work together to fight terrorism, something that the president has been talking about. But basically on every single stop of this trip, it's been a focus of his trip. The Vatican said that they exchanged views on the promotion of peace throughout the world. They noted in particular the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.

But there is one thing that neither of their official statements mentioned that was a topic during the president's Vatican visit, and that's climate change, which is one of those areas of disagreement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came back on Air Force One, and when a reporter asked whether climate change had come up, he said that his counterpart at the Vatican had pressed Trump not to pull out of the Paris climate accord in a meeting that they had immediately following the audience with the pope.


REX TILLERSON: The president indicated were still thinking about that, that he hasn't made a final decision. And he I think told both Cardinal Parolin and also told Prime Minister Gentiloni that this is something that he would be taking up for a decision when we return from this trip.

KEITH: And Prime Minister Gentiloni is the prime minister of Italy who President Trump also met with today.

SHAPIRO: Climate change also came up when President Trump and the pope exchanged gifts, right?

KEITH: Yeah, so this was interesting. The pope gave the president a number of his own writings, including his encyclical on climate change. And when he gave it to the president, he described it as being about care of our common home, the environment. The president responded, well, I will be reading them. As for president Trump's gift to Pope Francis, it was a series of books written by Dr. Martin Luther King, first editions because Pope Francis, when he spoke to Congress in 2015, had quoted Dr. Martin Luther King.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tamara Keith in Brussels traveling with the president. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.