Vatican urges dialogue on Iranian, Palestinian threats

Vatican foreign policy officials say dialogue is the key to resolving the West's nuclear standoffs with Iran and the threat of extremism from a Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Catholic News Service reports that on the Palestinian situation, the Vatican believes Hamas should be pressed to moderate its positions, but it opposes the US and European strategy of cutting off foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.

On Iran, the Vatican has encouraged the Iranian government to cooperate more fully with the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that its nuclear program is peaceful. At the same time, Vatican officials believe military intervention aimed at forcing Iran's hand would be disastrous.

Vatican sources spoke to Catholic News Service in early May, following a series of quiet diplomatic meetings on Middle Eastern developments.

On 9 May, Kurt Volker, a US deputy assistant secretary of state, briefed a Vatican foreign policy official, Msgr Pietro Parolin, on these and other issues. Meeting with reporters afterward, Volker underlined areas of US-Vatican agreement, including opposition to terrorism.

Part of the reason for US and European sanctions against the Palestinian government, Volker said, is to "ensure that we are not condoning or supporting terrorism in any way."

The US is using the funding freeze to pressure Hamas to renounce violence, to recognise Israel's right to exist and to accept previously negotiated peace agreements.

Vatican sources said the Holy See shares those three goals - but completely disagrees that an economic boycott should be used to achieve them.

"Cutting off funds may strangle Hamas, but it also is strangling the Palestinian population. This is not the way to proceed," one source said.

He said the Vatican viewed favourably efforts by some countries to devise a temporary international fund to deliver humanitarian funds to Palestinians, bypassing Hamas.

The Vatican also believes that it may take time for Hamas to moderate its policies, and that this should not be viewed as an absolute precondition to dialogue.

The Holy See has not sought direct contact with Hamas but would not exclude it should Hamas want to open talks, the sources said.

The Vatican believes this more flexible approach to Hamas might help encourage moderate voices inside the organisation.

Economic disruption as a political tactic does not find favour at the Vatican. In the Vatican's view, even if the strategy causes the Hamas-led government to collapse, the long-term consequences would be more resentment and radicalisation of the Palestinian population.

Iran's nuclear program - which Iran says is solely for civilian uses - poses a whole different set of challenges, and the church is only marginally involved. But the Vatican has had occasion to convey its positions to both US and Iranian diplomats in recent weeks.

When Volker visited Rome, he said he assured the Vatican that the US was pursuing a diplomatic approach to curbing Iran's nuclear program.

"I think that is something the Vatican appreciates - that we are using every means possible to pursue a solution to this through diplomatic and economic measures and working through the UN Security Council," he said.

Some press reports have suggested that the US administration, convinced that Iran is well on its way to building nuclear weapons, is already planning military action against Iran.

Vatican sources said the Holy See would view military intervention in Iran as morally unjustifiable and impractical.

The Vatican has explained its position to Iranian officials on more than one occasion. Iran has a large embassy to the Holy See and appears to take a great interest in pronouncements by Benedict XVI and others at the Vatican.

Vatican favors dialogue on Iranian, Palestinian issues (Catholic News Service/Catholic Online 12/5/06)

Scottish cardinal 1st petition signer against Trident nuclear weapons system (Catholic Online 15/5/06)
When religion's true nature is understood, it can help counter terrorism, Vatican representative tells U.N. (Catholic News Agency 12/5/06)
Scottish church leader has passion on poverty and praise for peacemaker (Ekklesia 14/5/06)
Religion Can Counter Terrorism, Says Holy See (Zenit 12/5/06)
Holy See's Statement to U.N. on Terrorism (Zenit 12/5/06)

16 May 2006