Bush urges Pope to act as broker with Cuba

Categories: America,Papal Movements

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By Malcolm Moore in Rome, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:56am BST 10/06/2007

President George W Bush yesterday appealed for Pope Benedict’s help in turning Cuba away from communism once Fidel Castro is dead.

The United States wants the Pope to act as an “honest broker” between it and Cuba, helping to defrost decades of enmity.

President Bush arrived for his first audience with the pontiff yesterday morning, choosing to slip into the Vatican through a back entrance to avoid any confrontation with anti-war protesters in St Peter’s Square. As he arrived, he was greeted by an escort of Swiss Guards in their striped orange, blue and red uniforms.

President Bush caused raised eyebrows when he addressed the Pope as “Sir” instead of the expected “Your Holiness”. The two men sat at a small desk in the Pope’s private library to discuss Cuba, as well as the war in Iraq and the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

On his way into the library, the Pope was heard asking President Bush whether his meeting earlier in the week with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, had gone well. “Umm. I’ll tell you in a minute,” the president said, eyeing reporters.

Mr Bush’s appeal over Cuba came after a leaked memorandum put together by the US State Department warned that the death of Castro could lead to huge instability on the island, as hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles make the 90-mile journey home from Florida. The Church would be the only point to which all Cubans could look for guidance. Eusebio Mujal-Leon, the head of a pro-Cuba project at Georgetown University in Washington, said: “Bush sees in the Church a way of dragging Havana away from communism, just as it helped in Warsaw.”

On Friday, Castro accused the American president of “trying to deceive the Pope by pretending that the war in Iraq does not exist and is not about oil”.

Before he set out on his European tour, President Bush said that he and the Holy Father both shared “the value of universal liberty” and insisted that he would be “in listening mode” during his half-hour papal audience.

The Vatican declined to comment specifically on Cuba, but said the two men had discussed “the large ethical and social questions concerning people worldwide”. Before the door was closed on their meeting, bystanders heard Mr Bush tell the Pope that the G8 summit had been “a success”.

The president gave the Pope a “Moses” walking stick, made by a former homeless man in Dallas, Texas, who engraved it with the Ten Commandments.

The Pope used the meeting to discuss what the Vatican called “the worrying situation in Iraq”, telling Mr Bush he would like a “regional and negotiated” solution to Middle East conflicts, including the war in Iraq.

According to the Vatican, the two men discussed Africa, particularly the conflict in Darfur, and Latin America. They also covered “ethical and religious issues”, including human rights, freedom of religion, “the defence and promotion of life, marriage and the family, the education of new generations and sustainable development”. The president’s itinerary in Rome was revised because of fears for his safety as thousands of anti-war protesters filled the city.

President Bush had planned to walk around Trastevere, after hearing about its charms from his daughter Barbara, but the American embassy persuaded him to abandon the trip, pointing out that the presidential cavalcade of more than 40 vehicles would not fit in the area’s tiny cobbled streets.

About 30,000 carabinieri, or military policemen, were mobilised to protect the president. Helicopters and fighter jets patrolled over the city, while boats cruised up and down the Tiber.

Relations between Italy and America are low after Italy’s withdrawal from Iraq. Washington is also upset at the trial in their absence of 26 CIA agents in Milan for kidnapping a Muslim cleric and at protests over its new military base in Vicenza.

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