Pope Benedict XVI has expressed “total and profound respect” for Muslims, as he attempts to defuse a row between Islam and the Catholic Church. He made the remarks in a meeting with envoys from the Muslim world, weeks after a speech in Germany prompted an angry reaction by some Muslims. Iraq’s ambassador said it was time to move on from the row and build bridges. But the Indonesian envoy said he was surprised that there was no direct dialogue at the meeting. In the space of just half an hour, the pontiff made a brief speech to envoys before greeting them individually, but there was no general discussion. Muslim leaders had been demanding an unequivocal apology from the Pope for his words. Dialogue welcomed The meeting was held at the Pope’s residence near Rome. Ambassadors from 21 countries and a representative from the Arab League attended, as well as Islamic representatives in Italy. Of mainly Muslim countries with diplomatic relations with the Vatican, only Sudan failed to attend. “I would like today to stress my total and profound respect for all Muslims,” the Pope said in the speech. He called for “sincere and respectful dialogue”, adding that Christians and Muslims alike must reject all forms of violence and respect religious liberty. Correspondents say the latter was a reference to restrictions on the church’s activity in some Muslim countries. “Since the beginning of my pontificate I have had occasion to express my wish to continue to establish bridges of friendship with believers of all religions, showing particularly my appreciation in the belief in dialogue between Muslims and Christians,” he said. “…The inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims is, in effect, a vital necessity, on which a large part of our future depends.” He also quoted his predecessor, John Paul II, stating the need for “reciprocity in all fields”. Iraqi ambassador Albert Yelda said he was satisfied by the Pope’s remarks. “I think it is time to put what happened behind us and build bridges among all the civilisations,” he said. But in a BBC interview, the ambassador of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, pointed out that the Pope had not referred directly to the speech which sparked the controversy. “We had hoped that there would have been a dialogue, but that was not the case,” Bambang Prayitno said. “There was no dialogue between the Pope and the guests… In general, we were actually a bit surprised that the meeting was a short one and just like that.” ‘Misunderstood’ The pontiff has expressed regret following the reactions in some countries to words of a speech he made in southern Germany earlier in the month. On Wednesday, he told pilgrims at the Vatican that his remarks in Bavaria last week had been “misunderstood”. He said his use of a quote from a 14th-Century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos, did not reflect his personal opinion. The quote says: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Pope said his real intention had been to “explain that religion and violence do not go together, but religion and reason do”.