AVIANO, Italy — Pope John Paul II, a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq, greeted Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday with a peace message. Cheney, meanwhile, spent the last day of his European trip rallying U.S. troops in the war against terrorism to “take the fight to the enemy.”
“The mission going forward is still difficult, still dangerous,” Cheney told soldiers and military family members in a crowded hangar on Aviano Air Base in northeast Italy. “We will remember every life lost with honor.”
The troops were in camouflage and some waved small American flags. In the hangar was a F-16 fighter jet and a Black Hawk helicopter.
From Aviano, Cheney was headed to nearby Vicenza, home of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, where he was to give another speech and meet with 20 troops who have just returned from Iraq. Cheney wife’s, Lynne Cheney, planned to meet with military families.
Cheney was on the final day of his five-day trip to Europe, where he attended the World Economic Forum, met with government leaders and delivered two foreign policy addresses — one in Switzerland, the other in Rome.
Pope gives message of peace
Before leaving Rome for Aviano, Cheney visited with Pope John Paul II, who gave him a message calling for international cooperation and peace.
“I encourage you and your fellow citizens to work at home and abroad for the growth of international cooperation. ... The American people have always cherished the fundamentals values of freedom, justice and equity,” the pope told Cheney.
The hand of the pontiff, who suffers from Parkinson’s, trembled as he read the short greeting.
Cheney, who was seated on his right, presented the pope with a dove made of glass, which the pontiff stroked with his hand.
He gave Cheney a set of 20 silver medals with reproductions of masterpieces from the Vatican and presented Mrs. Cheney and daughter Liz silver rosaries and medals of the Pontificate.
A red carpet leading to the Apolostic Palace where the meeting occurred in the Papal Library had been rolled out before Cheney’s arrival and a picket of Swiss guards clad in colorful uniforms greeted the U.S. delegation.
The meeting came at a time when the Vatican has put aside its opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq and is seeking greater involvement by the international community in rebuilding the country.
Although an opponent of the war, John Paul told diplomats two weeks ago that “what is important today is that the international community help the Iraqis.”
After a private 15-minute session with the 83-year-old pontiff, Cheney was holding talks with the Vatican’s No. 2 official, Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
It was the highest-level Vatican-U.S. meeting since the Iraqi war began. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited in June, talks that were already taken as a sign that Washington’s relationship with the Vatican was not damaged by its disagreement on the war.
Respect for international law
The pope has been calling for renewed respect for international law — the Vatican was particularly irritated that the war in Iraq was launched without U.N. authorization. But John Paul has also been referring to threats posed by international terrorism.
And while his recent speech to the diplomats repeated his view that “war does not resolve conflicts between peoples,” it also acknowledged that the Iraqis were rid of a “regime that oppressed them.”
The U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, James Nicholson, called the pope’s remarks on Iraq “very forward looking.”
The Vatican values its relationship with the United States — formal diplomatic ties were only established 20 years ago — counting on Washington to be a major force in promoting democracy, human rights and religious freedom around the world.
It has clearly been seeking to tone down rhetoric that can be taken as European anti-Americanism.
The Vatican moved unusually quickly last month after a cardinal rebuked the United States for treating Saddam Hussein “like a cow” by showing film of the former dictator having his teeth checked by a U.S. medic after his capture. A senior Vatican official stressed that the cardinal was expressing his personal opinion and not necessarily the view of the pope.
Since coming to Europe, Cheney has emphasized the need for democracies to work together but that they should not fear using force if diplomacy cannot deter terrorism.
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