3 STRIKES AT VATICAN
The Vatican has quietly rejected at least three of President Obama's candidates to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See because they support abortion, and the White House might be running out of time to find an acceptable envoy before Mr. Obama travels to Rome in July, when he hopes to meet Pope Benedict XVI.
Italian journalist Massimo Franco, who broke the story about the White House attempts to find a suitable ambassador to the Vatican, said papal advisers told Mr. Obama's aides privately that the candidates failed to meet the Vatican's most basic qualification on the abortion issue.
"The informal dismissal of the first names whispered in the Obama inner circle is a signal," Mr. Franco, a columnist with Corriere della Sera (Evening Courier), told Embassy Row in e-mail.
He said the Vatican recognized that a foreign nation is free to appoint the ambassador of its choice but that the pope is free to reject a proposed envoy if he believes the candidate would "fail to improve relations" with the Catholic city-state.
Mr. Franco, who has close connections at the Vatican, added that the rejection of the Obama candidates "would suggest that, at least so far, none of the potential Democratic diplomats were considered fit to 'improve relations' with the Holy See."
Neither the Vatican Embassy in Washington nor the White House would comment Monday on the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador.
Mr. Franco - whose new book, "Parallel Empires: The Vatican and the U.S.," explores U.S.-Vatican relations over the past 200 years - said Mr. Obama's predicament underscores a deeper problem the Vatican has with the Democratic Party and its pro-choice positions on abortion.
He also noted that the lack of a U.S. ambassador "could become embarrassing" for the White House, if the position remains unfilled when Mr. Obama attends a summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Italy in July. The White House is trying to arrange a time before or after the summit for Mr. Obama to meet the pope.
Since the United States established formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1984, the ambassadorial position has been held by political supporters and pro-life Catholics under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
President Reagan appointed political supporters William Wilson and Frank Shakespeare. President George H.W. Bush named Thomas Patrick Melady, a university professor. President Clinton selected former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn and Rep. Corinne Claiborne "Lindy" Boggs, Louisiana Democrat.
President George W. Bush named three ambassadors during his two terms: James Nicholson, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee; Francis Rooney, a top campaign fundraiser; and Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard University law professor.
Slovenia's first ambassador to the United States is now a candidate for the highly sensitive position as head of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog organization.
Ernest Petric, 72, is a "candidate for director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," the Slovenian foreign minister said Monday.
Mr. Petric and a second candidate, Noramly Muslim, director of Malaysia's atomic energy board, are candidates to replace Mohamed ElBaradei, who is retiring after 12 years as director-general of the 35-nation agency.
Mr. Petric, now a Slovenian constitutional court judge, served in Washington from 1992 to 1997. He also served as Slovenia's ambassador to the IAEA.
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