- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton will accompany President Bush to the funeral of Pope John Paul II on Friday, but former President Jimmy Carter will not be joining the delegation, the White House said yesterday.

The delegation, which is limited to five by the Vatican invitation, also will include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and first lady Laura Bush.

The White House said Mr. Carter was asked to join the delegation, but declined to say why Mr. Carter was not accompanying Mr. Bush when he leaves for the Vatican early today.

The Carter Center in Atlanta, a nonprofit organization run by the former president, issued a statement yesterday explaining the situation.

“After issuing a public statement of condolences last week, President Carter expressed to the White House a desire to attend the Pope’s funeral. He was quite willing to withdraw his request when he was subsequently informed that the official delegation would be limited to just five people, and there were also others who were eager to attend. He and his wife Rosalynn are very pleased with the official delegation,” the statement said.

One senior Republican Party official said Mr. Carter had asked to take his wife, Rosalynn, but was informed that there was no space for spouses. It was not clear whether Mr. Clinton asked to take his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

In his statement, Mr. Carter praised the pope and said he and his wife will “always relish the memories of Pope John Paul II being a delightful personal guest at the White House in 1979, on a pope’s only visit to our nation’s capital city.”

Former President Gerald Ford, who is 91, no longer travels.

Clinton spokesman Jim Kennedy said the former president had been given clearance by his doctors to fly to Rome. Mr. Clinton had surgery last month to address a complication from his earlier heart-bypass operation.

Although Mr. Bush has reached out to Mr. Clinton and praised his efforts in the Middle East, the president has been at odds with Mr. Carter. The former president accused Mr. Bush of exploiting the September 11 terror attacks and decried what he called Mr. Bush’s “fallacious and ill-advised and mistaken and sometimes misleading actions” during the 2004 campaign.

Meanwhile, other power brokers in Washington are planning to attend the funeral, though not as part of the official U.S. delegation. Among them are Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee; House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois; Sens. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

While in Rome, Mr. Bush is to have meetings tomorrow with Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. He will return to his Texas ranch after the pope’s funeral.

On Monday, the president will welcome Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the ranch, an invitation offered only to close U.S. allies.

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