- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI received a letter yesterday from Iran’s hard-line president about the recent U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran for refusing to compromise on its nuclear program, Iran’s state-run news agency reported.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s letter was delivered by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki after the pontiff’s general audience at the Vatican’s Paul VI hall, the Vatican said.

The Vatican did not release details of the content of the letter, but Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said the note focused on Saturday’s Security Council vote approving sanctions on Tehran.

The Vatican said Benedict stressed his apolitical role in his brief meeting with Mr. Mottaki.

The pope “reaffirmed the role that the Holy See intends to carry out for world peace, not as a political authority but as a religious and moral one … so that peoples’ problems will always be solved in dialogue, mutual understanding and peace,” the Vatican said.

Meanwhile, Iran’s parliament voted yesterday to urge the government to re-examine its ties with the Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency after the Security Council vote.

The move signaled that Iran was likely to reduce its cooperation with the U.N. nuclear agency. Iranian state radio predicted that once the bill came into effect, “the agency will become an ineffective and weak body.”

The letter to the pope followed indirect criticism by the Vatican earlier this month of a conference of Holocaust deniers held in Iran. The Vatican said the Holocaust “was a great tragedy before which we cannot remain indifferent” and which must serve as a warning to people’s consciences.

Also this month, Benedict met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who urged Christians to protest Holocaust denials. Mr. Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of Israel and questioned whether the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews occurred.

The Security Council voted Saturday to impose limited sanctions on Iran for its refusal to cease enrichment of uranium — a process that produces the material for either peaceful nuclear power or warheads.

The United States and its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for developing a nuclear bomb. Iran denies this, saying its program is strictly for generating electricity from nuclear fuel.

Mr. Ahmadinejad told a gathering in Tehran on Sunday that Iran is a “nuclear country,” irrespective of whether the world liked it.

During the debate on the bill in Iran’s parliament, which was broadcast live on state radio, Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said, “The bill gives a free hand to the government to decide on a range of reactions — from leaving the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to remaining in the International Atomic Energy Agency and negotiating.”

He said 161 out of 203 legislators present voted in favor of the bill, 15 voted against and 15 abstained. The opponents and the abstainers were reformists and moderate conservatives.

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