DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     August 31, 1999     vol. 10, no. 164

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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        WASHINGTON, DC (CWNews.com) - The US State Department on Friday urged Pope John Paul II to consider the possibility that Saddam Hussein would use a visit by the Pontiff for political purposes, but critics contended that the Holy Father has enough experience dealing with political despots.

        "We have expressed our concerns in diplomatic channels because of the likelihood the regime in Iraq would attempt to manipulate the visit for political purposes," said State Department spokesman James Foley. "We have urged the Vatican to take this reality into account." The Holy Father is expected to visit Iraq in December as part of a Middle East trip. The Pope has been a vocal opponent of ongoing UN sanctions against Iraq.

        The Holy Father has used his reign to travel to such oppressive regimes as Cuba and his own Poland to press for more freedoms. In almost every case, his visit was followed by a new openness.

        Analysts surmise that the US is concerned a papal visit would undermine a campaign by the US, Britain, and moderate Arab states to motivate support in the UN for a reformulated arms monitoring agency in Iraq. Western diplomats in Jordan have told reporters the US and Britain are preparing for "large-scale" operations against Iraq this fall, according to analysts Stratfor.com.

        They said the two countries are apparently using the threat of force to get the jump on the Iraqis, who have seized the diplomatic initiative each autumn in recent years, by making them feel too isolated to foment a crisis. But the US State Department may be worried that an impending papal visit will undermine their efforts.

        But Iraq's Catholic Chaldean-rite patriarch doesn't agree and on Friday confirmed reports that Pope John Paul II is planning to visit the country in December.

        Patriarch Raphael Bidawid said the discussions between the Iraqi government and Holy See were taking place to include Iraq on a proposed trip to the Middle East in early December. The Holy Father has publicly stated his desire to visit Biblical landmarks including the ancient city of Ur of the Chaldeans, birthplace of the patriarch Abraham.

        "We believe the visit will occur in the first week of December but the exact date and time have yet to be set. This issue is currently under discussion but the visit will certainly take place before 2000," Patriarch Bidawid said. The Vatican has said that any trip is not yet confirmed.

        The United States has opposed the trip to Iraq which is still laboring under economic sanctions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War. The Pope has denounced the sanctions as an undue burden on the people of Iraq, while the US says the papal visit could provide support for Saddam Hussein's government.

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

August 31, 1999       volume 10, no. 164


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