Sunday, April 16, 2006

Pope calls for nuclear diplomacy: Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, in his first Easter message, called on Sunday for an "honorable solution" to the nuclear standoff with Iran, a truly independent Palestinian state, and global cooperation to combat terrorism.

The German Pope, speaking on his 79th birthday, made his appeal for world peace in his Easter "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message to some 100,000 people as he concluded the first Easter season of his pontificate.

The Pope, who marks the first anniversary of his election on Wednesday, led a joyful Easter mass in a sunny St Peter's Square on the most important day of the Christian liturgical calendar, when the faithful celebrate Christ's resurrection from the dead.

In the speech, televised to millions of viewers in more than 65 countries at the end of Easter Sunday mass in the square, the head of the Roman Catholic Church listed his worries about a world he said was living through "uncertainty and anxiety" and oppressed by widespread suffering.

"Concerning the international crises linked to nuclear power, may an honorable solution be found for all parties, through serious and honest negotiations ... " he said in a clear reference to Iran, which announced last week it had become a nuclear power by enriching uranium.

The United States wants targeted sanctions on Iran that include a freeze on assets and visa restrictions.

The Pope read the speech, and delivered brief Easter greetings in 62 languages including Hebrew and Arabic, from the same central balcony of St Peter's Basilica where he appeared to the world for the first time as pontiff after his election.

The crowd in the square, which was decked out with tens of thousands of flowers donated by the Netherlands, interrupted his address with applause several times when he called for peace.

In another part of the speech, the Pope defended Israel's right to exist, in what appeared to be an indirect criticism of statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Jewish state should be eliminated.


But he also called firmly for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"May the international community, which re-affirms Israel's just right to exist in peace, assist the Palestinian people to overcome the precarious conditions in which they live and to build their future, moving toward the constitution of a state that is truly their own," he said in the part of his address dedicated to peace in the Middle East.

In other parts of the "Urbi et Orbi" address, the Pope expressed his concern over terrorism, as he has already done several times since his election on April 19, 2005 to succeed the late Pope John Paul.

"May the leaders of nations and of international organizations be strengthened in their will to achieve peaceful coexistence among different races, cultures and religions, in order to remove the threat of terrorism," he said.

Mentioning Iraq, he prayed "may peace finally prevail over the tragic violence that continues mercilessly to claim victims."

The Pope also prayed that the spirit of the risen Christ bring relief and security to Africa, particularly the people of Darfur in western Sudan, who he said were "living in a dramatic humanitarian situation that is no longer sustainable."

Chad broke diplomatic ties with neighboring Sudan on Friday and warned that it might stop sheltering thousands of Sudanese refugees who have crossed the border to escape an ethnic conflict in the Darfur region.

This is the first Easter for the 1.1 billion member Roman Catholic Church since the death of Pope John Paul, who was in his final days a year ago and was only able to make brief appearances in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

John Paul died on April 2, a week after Easter.

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