VATICAN CITY, AUG. 31 -- International Jewish leaders began talks with Vatican officials today in preparation for an unusual give-and-take audience with Pope John Paul II Tuesday, aimed at undoing damage to Catholic-Jewish relations caused by his meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim in June.

Nine Jewish leaders from the United States, Israel and Switzerland met with the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews and said they were "optimistic" prior to their meeting with the pope.

"We have been meeting in a friendly fashion and discussing very fundamental issues and are coming to, it seems to me, very positive conclusions," said Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, chairman of the Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, as he emerged from talks with the chairman of the Vatican's Jewish relations commission, Dutch Cardinal Johannes Willebrands. Waxman's group represents mostly American Jewish groups.

"The tone {of the meeting} was optimistic, positive, collaborative," agreed Archbishop William Keeler of Harrisburg, Pa., head of the American Bishops Conference's Commission on Jewish Relations, who stood at Waxman's side while his Jewish counterpart added: "And friendly."

The pope agreed to the talks after many Jews throughout the world reacted angrily to his meeting June 25 with Waldheim, the former U.N. secretary general who has been accused of involvement in Nazi war crimes as a lieutenant in the German Army during World War II and has been barred from entry into the United States. Waldheim has denied the charges.

The Jewish anger threatened to mar John Paul's visit to the United States in September, when he is to meet with Jewish leaders in Miami to further Catholic-Jewish dialogue. Many Jewish organizations said they would boycott the pope's visit and withdraw from interfaith activities scheduled during his nine-city swing through the south and west.

Initial Jewish anger was softened 10 days ago when a letter from the pope to the head of the American Bishops Conference, about the horrors of the Holocaust in World War II, was released by the conference. Although the letter did not deal with the Waldheim affair, it was considered a particularly moving papal identification with the Jewish suffering.

The release of the letter also cleared the way for the pope to invite the Jewish leaders at his Castelgondolfo summer palace for an unusually lengthy 90-minute discussion, without prepared speeches.

"We hope that our meeting in mutual respect with the pope will contain some of that damage" from the Waldheim visit, said Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, the director of international relations for the American Jewish Committee. "At the very least it will have an important symbolic function, to demonstrate a continuing respect and even affection, and a desire to cooperate in areas of mutual interest."

Tanenbaum said that at the Vatican's request, the Jewish group had submitted an agenda including the Vatican and Jewish understandings of the Holocaust, continuing anti-Semitism, what he said were continuing anti-Jewish pronouncements by some Catholic Church representatives, and the Vatican's refusal to recognize the state of Israel.

The Jewish group, which includes Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Organizations, said it also will raise the issue of religious rights of Jews and Catholics in the Soviet Union.

Gunther Lawrence, a spokesman for the Jewish delegation, termed the awaited meeting with the pope "historic" not only because of its scheduled length -- longer than usually allotted heads of state, such as Waldheim -- but because it is to be a frank discussion.

Waxman said after today's talks, "All positions are stated. Now we will see how they are resolved."