by Viviane Hewitt in Rome
THE Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, spent last week in Moscow for talks with the Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev.
Archbishop Tauran's visit has been interpreted as a sign that Pope John Paul II intends to go ahead with so far tentative plans to travel to the Soviet Union next year. The trip, which would be the most historic of any pontificate this century, is believed to have been the focus of the archbishop's discussions with President Gorbachev.
The Pope will probably include in his itinerary Moscow, Siberia and Kazakistan, the three zones where Catholic reorganisation is currently most intense.
Lithuania, which presented a barrier to any papal trip until the failed hardline coup in the Soviet Union in August and the subsequent independence of the Baltic states, would also be a feature of the visit according to reports.
But sources said that there were no plans as yet to include the Ukraine, where conflict between the Catholic Uniate church and Orthodoxy continues, mainly over property rights.
They said that John Paul usually had four trips scheduled every year and that by the autumn the full programme for the following 12 months was already known. It was claimed that John Paul had two visits scheduled for Africa in 1992.
A papal trip to the Soviet capital would be the culmination of nearly three decades of Vatican ostpolitik.