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WikiLeaks: 2008-08-04: 08VATICAN60: Iraqi Ambassador Comments on Maliki's Meeting with the Pope

by WikiLeaks. 08VATICAN60: August 04, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 04:29 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08VATICAN60 2008-08-04 13:46 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vatican
DE RUEHROV #0060/01 2171346
P 041346Z AUG 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VATICAN 000060 
E.O. 12958: DECL:  8/4/2028 
VATICAN 00000060  001.2 OF 003 
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 
1. (C) Summary: During his recent meeting with the Pope and with 
Holy See Secretary of State Bertone, Maliki both recognized the 
need and committed to protect and assist Christians in Iraq. 
The Pope also asked Maliki to assist Iraqi refugees and 
internally displaced persons.  In a separate meeting, Bertone 
asked for better security and the inclusion of Christians in the 
police.  His deputy raised the issue of the return of property 
belonging to Christians.  Bertone deferred to the Iraqis on the 
future administrative and political organization of their 
territory, while calling for the rights of Christians to be 
recognized throughout the country. 
2.  (C) Summary continued: Maliki visited the tomb of John Paul 
II but avoided being photographed to prevent criticism at home. 
Chaldean communities in Europe welcomed Maliki's visit but were 
distressed that the Prime Minister urged governments and the 
Holy See to tell refugees to return. End of Summary. 
3.  (C) A/DCM met on July 30 with the Iraqi Ambassador to the 
Holy See, Albert Yelda, to discuss Prime Minister Nouri 
Al-Maliki's July 24 and 25 visit to the Vatican.  A/DCM later 
met with the Rome representative of the Chaldean Church, 
Monsignor Philip Najim, to obtain his impression of the visit as 
well as that of Chaldean communities in Europe. 
Pope concerned for plight of Christians and refugees 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
4.  (C) Maliki's private meeting with the Pope on July 25 lasted 
for about 20 minutes.  Yelda said that the Pope raised his 
concern for the plight of Christians in Iraq, and for the needs 
of all refugees and internally displaced persons.  Prime 
Minister Maliki invited the Pope to visit Iraq.  Yelda said that 
Maliki was very satisfied with the meeting and got a very 
positive impression of the Pope for his kindness and cordiality. 
 Following the meeting the Holy See issued a press release (see 
last paragraph for Post's translation of the release). 
Bertone asks for security, Mamberti raises property 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
5.  (C) Prior to his meeting with the Pope, Maliki met for about 
45 minutes with the Holy See's Secretary of State, Cardinal 
Tarcisio Bertone, and with his deputy, Secretary for Relations 
with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.  Also present at 
that meeting was Ambassador Yelda and other members of Maliki's 
6.  (C) Yelda said that the generally mild Cardinal Bertone 
spoke in uncharacteristically strong terms about the need to 
protect Iraqi Christians and to include them in the security 
forces.  Regarding the establishment of a province or region for 
Iraqi Christians, Bertone said that the Holy See would be 
satisfied with whatever peaceful arrangements the Christian 
communities and the government of Iraq would find acceptable. 
He added that the Holy See would like to see the rights of Iraqi 
Christians respected wherever they are, not just in areas where 
they may achieve some level of self-administration. (Note: 
Bertone's message would seem to indicate that the Holy See 
incorporated in their own briefing documents our recommendation 
to underline to Maliki the need to bring Christians into the 
security forces and to stress that minorities are an essential 
part of Iraqi's social and political fabric.  End note.) 
7.  (C) Yelda stated that a less than eloquent Archbishop 
Mamberti spoke about the need to protect the property of Iraqi 
Christians, and to return property that displaced Christians 
have lost.  Maliki, who was briefly taken aback by Mamberti's 
request, assured him that the government of Iraq was not taking 
away property from Christians.  Mamberti clarified that he was 
speaking in general terms about the properties of displaced 
Christians.  Maliki assured Bertone and Mamberti that the 
government was ready to assist and financially support the 
return of displaced Iraqis.  Maliki also asked that the Holy See 
encourage Iraqi refugees to return. 
Maliki visits Pope John Paul II's tomb 
8.  (C) Yelda, who is an Assyrian Christian, said that he 
convinced Maliki to pay a visit to Saint Peter's Basilica and 
the tomb of Pope John Paul II, located in the Basilica's crypt. 
The visit took place on July 24, a day before Maliki's meeting 
with Pope Benedict and Bertone at the Pope's summer residence in 
Castel Gandolfo (about 13 miles from Rome). 
9.  (C) According to Yelda, Maliki readily agreed to the visit, 
but insisted that there be no press and no photographs, as he 
did not want critics at home --particularly Sunnis who scoff at 
Shia traditions of pilgrimages to the burial sites of Imams-- to 
VATICAN 00000060  002.2 OF 003 
polemicize this gesture.  Even without pictures, Yelda thought 
that having Maliki visit the tomb was an important and 
symbolically powerful sign of respect for all Christians. 
Chaldeans in Europe concerned about pressure to return 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
10.  (C) Monsignor Najim, who oversees the pastoral needs of 
Chaldean parishes in Europe as the Rome-based representative of 
Patriarch Delly, told the A/DCM that he was happy with what he 
had heard about the visit.  While Najim was in Denmark when 
Maliki met the Pope and was not involved in the visit, he stated 
that he was glad that Benedict could personally ask the Iraqi 
Prime Minister to protect Iraqi Christians and assist refugees. 
11.  (C) Najim was critical of what he saw as Maliki's advocacy 
for an end to refugee protection for Iraqis in European 
countries.  Chaldean communities, he said, were distressed by 
this message, which he thought was unhelpful and premature. 
Najim added that Iraqi Embassies and consulates were not doing 
anything for Iraqi refugees, citing as an example the long 
waiting period to obtain the new machine-readable passport 
outside Iraq, which many countries (including the US) now 
require for travel. Najim said that some European countries were 
already closing the door to new Iraqi refugees, and that he did 
not know of any family currently in Europe willing to return, at 
least for the time being.  He did think, however, that a longer 
period of security would lead to a greater number of returnees. 
12.  (C) Ambassador Yelda also commented on Maliki's ministers' 
notion that the Pope could command Iraqi Christians to return, 
which he said evidenced their misunderstanding of the workings 
of the Catholic Church and the role of the Pope.  Yelda was 
pessimistic about the future of Christians in Iraq and the 
Middle East:  "once upon a time" --he said-- "the British 
protected the Christians in the Middle East.  Now, no one does". 
 Yelda attributed this to what he sees as the relentless 
pressure of Saudi-supported "Wahabism".  (Note:  Yelda, who in 
the past was part of the Iraqi opposition in exile in London, 
maintains that Saudi Arabia is a much bigger threat to Iraq than 
Iran, and that Shiaism, with its "Vatican-like" formal 
hierarchy, allows for the possibility of a fruitful dialogue, 
while the way to deal with "Sunni radicals" is to demonstrate 
strength, not "appeasement".  End note.) 
A Christian homeland 
13.  (C) Najim was pleased with what he was told Bertone had 
said about allowing Iraqis to decide the future form of the 
Iraqi state.  For Najim, this is a positive change from what he 
took as the Vatican's over-reaching opposition to the notion of 
a Christian homeland.  Najim said that previous statements on 
the part of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the Prefect of the 
Congregation for Oriental Churches, critically referring to the 
establishment of a Christian homeland in Ninewa as "the 
ghettoization of Christians in Iraq" were misguided and 
unfortunate. (Note: Sandri oversees the operations of the 
largely-autonomous eastern-rite churches, including the Chaldean 
Church.  He had also criticized the notion of having European 
governments give preferential treatment to Iraqi Christian 
refugees seeking political asylum.  End note.) 
14.  (C) Najim implied that those in favor and against "a 
Christian homeland" now understood each other better.  Najim, 
himself a proponent of an autonomous region, agrees with Bertone 
in underlining that Christians in Iraq should have rights 
regardless of where they live.  Najim sees a homeland as a 
safeguard when those rights are not respected, and also as a way 
of addressing a current need in an area --Ninewa-- where there 
are already large numbers of Christians.  (Comment:  While 
Bertone did not speak against the Christian homeland notion in 
his meeting with Maliki, the Holy See remains skeptical that 
such a plan is viable.  End comment.) 
15.  (C) Yelda noted that the Iraqi constitution already allows 
for the possibility of establishing something that would look 
like a Christian province (albeit not an autonomous region). 
Yelda himself believes that an autonomous Christian region is 
unachievable, but understands that some political leaders will 
want to formally lay out that option, as an aspirational goal, 
in a constitutional amendment.  He added that the Chaldean 
bishop of San Diego, Sarhad Yawsip Jammo, is one of the main 
advocates of an autonomous homeland (Note:  In Europe, Chaldean 
communities are under the jurisdiction of Latin-rite European 
bishops.  In the US, there are two Chaldean bishops, one in San 
Diego and another one in Detroit.  End note.) 
16.  (C) Maliki's meeting with the Pope has advanced the goal of 
VATICAN 00000060  003.2 OF 003 
a plural and tolerant Iraq by further impressing upon the 
Government of Iraq the importance that the Holy See (and by 
extension Catholics in particular, and many Christians in 
general) attaches to the plight of Christians in the region.  On 
the negative side, both Yelda and Najim's analysis, albeit 
positive on the visit itself, reveal a persistent, underlying 
pessimism for the future of Christians in Iraq.  End comment. 
17.  Below is the text of post's translation of the press 
release issued by the Holy See on July 25. 
Begin text: 
Today, at the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo, the Holy 
Father Benedict XVI received in audience His Excellency, Mr. 
Nouri Kamel Al-Maliki, Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq. 
The Prime Minster met earlier with the Most Eminent Secretary of 
State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.  The Most Excellent Secretary 
for Relations with States also attended that meeting. 
The discussions, which took place in an atmosphere of 
cordiality, enabled the parties to examine some fundamental 
aspects of the situation in Iraq, while also taking into 
consideration the regional context.  Particular attention was 
paid to the subject of the large number of Iraqi refugees - 
inside and outside of the country - who require help, also 
taking into account a hoped for return to their homeland. 
The parties reaffirmed their condemnation of the violence that 
almost on a daily basis continues to strike different regions of 
the country, not sparing the Christian communities who have a 
strongly-felt need for greater security. 
The parties expressed the hope that Iraq would embark on the 
path of peace and development through dialogue and collaboration 
among all the ethnic and religious groups, including minorities, 
so that with respect for their respective identities, and in a 
spirit of reconciliation and a desire for the common good, they 
will together achieve the moral and civil reconstruction of the 
country.  The importance of inter-religious dialogue as a means 
toward religious understanding and civil coexistence was also 
emphasized.  The Prime Minster invited the Holy Father to visit 
Iraq.  End Text. 


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