From: BreitBart.. Pope Benedict XVI was to hold an historic audience with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, on the first visit to the Vatican by a monarch from the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom. The Holy See does not have diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam's holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina and applies a rigorous doctrine of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal came to Rome in September to pave the way for the meeting which is expected to focus on the rights of Christians in Saudi Arabia and Islamic-Christian relations in general. The meeting with the pope is set for 12:30 pm (1130 GMT). Abdullah's visit comes as relations between the Vatican and the Muslim world have eased since the crisis provoked in September 2006 when Benedict appeared to link Islam with violence in a speech at Regensburg University, Germany. The lecture sparked days of sometimes violent protests in Muslim countries, prompting the pontiff to say that he was "deeply sorry" for any offence and attributing Muslim anger to an "unfortunate misunderstanding". The pope also held a meeting with the ambassadors and charge d'affaires from 22 Muslim countries as he sought to underline his commitment to inter-faith dialogue. It will not be King Abdullah's first contact with the head of the Roman Catholic Church. He met Benedict's predecessor John Paul II in 1999 when he was crown prince to his half brother King Fahd. The question of religious freedoms in Saudi Arabia for Christians and other non-Muslims remains an extremely sensitive one. In September, the US State Department annual report on religious freedoms noted some improvement in "specific areas" in Saudi Arabia but said "overall government policies continue to place severe restrictions on religious freedom." The report mentioned discrimination against non-Muslims, or against Muslims with practices different from Saudi Arabia's strict conservative Wahabi version of Sunni Islam. "Non-Muslims and Muslims who do not adhere to the government's interpretation of Islam continued to face significant political, economic, legal, social, and religious discrimination," it said. "Charges of harassment, abuse, and even killings at the hands of the muttawa (religious police) continued to surface. Saudi textbooks continued to contain statements of intolerance." King Abdullah arrived in Rome on Monday on the third leg of a European tour that has taken the 84-year-old monarch to London and Geneva. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who travelled to Riyadh in April, was to meet the Saudi king late Tuesday, while Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema was to have talks with his Saudi counterpart Al-Faisal. Abdullah's lavish three-day state visit to Britain, the first by a Saudi monarch in 20 years, sparked human rights protests. He will travel next to Germany and Turkey.