The diplomatic chess game around Iran's nuclear program includes an unlikely bishop. According to several well-placed Rome sources, Iranian officials are quietly laying the groundwork necessary to turn to Pope Benedict XVI and top Vatican diplomats for mediation if the showdown with the United States should escalate toward a military intervention. The 80-year-old Pope has thus far steered clear of any strong public comments about either Iran's failure to fully comply with U.N. nuclear weapons inspectors or the drumbeat of war coming from some corners in Washington. But Iran, which has had diplomatic relations with the Holy See for 53 years, may be trying to line up Benedict as an ace in the hole for staving off a potential attack in the coming months. "The Vatican seems to be part of their strategy," a senior Western diplomat in Rome said of the Iranian leadership. "They'll have an idea of when the 11th hour is coming. And they know an intervention of the Vatican is the most open and amenable route to Western public opinion. It could buy them time."Did someone say Ahmadinejad is crazy?
Not so much, it appears. One had to wonder at the alternating hot and cold rhetoric he was spewing, and now we have a big clue as to how he felt he could get away with it.
Not only would a Papal intervention make Americans sit up and take notice, it would immediately bring to bear pressure from all of Europe, South America, and much of Russia. Knowing that, to risk an invasion of Iran, Bush would have to carefully calculate whom he could count on to defy the Pope (not many European nations would dare do that).
How much influence does Benedict XVI wield?:
Last April's release of 15 British sailors held by Iran — a decision that Ahmadinejad called "an Easter gift" — came just a day after the Pope had sent a private letter asking for their liberation. "There was respect for the request of the Pope," said [Iranian Vice-Ambassador to the Vatican Ahmad] FahimaWow. That is stroke. If Bush or Blair had made that request, and I'm sure they did, it would probably have been laughed at.
Believe it or not, Iran has the second largest ambassadorial presence to the Vatican in the world. Only the Dominican Republic has a larger embassy staff.
How likely is the Vatican to side with Iran in any confrontation that might blow up into war?:
Though Vatican officials say they are concerned about Iran's development of nuclear arms, the pontiff is both doctrinally bound and personally inclined to pursue a negotiated settlement at almost any cost. In 2003, then serving as a senior Vatican Cardinal, the current Pope was firmly behind John Paul II's opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Indeed, many in Rome cite parallels between the current push from American hardliners to confront Iran and the walkup to the war in Iraq. "The Holy See hasn't forgotten what happened in Iraq," says one Vatican insider. "Seeing how that situation has developed, there is great, great prudence on the part of the Holy See. The judgment shown on Iraq weighs on the Iran situation."So the Pope is a defeatist Democrat!
A difficult and complex situation has just taken a very interesting turn. Not only will America inflame the Muslim world with any invasion of Iran, that same invasion not only would spike oil prices and make Europe and China angry, it would also force the Pope to come out strongly against America, and Benedict is not particularly known for his soft diplomatic language.
You could almost say he was the Catholic Bush...