- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI yesterday urged the world to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction and called for continued diplomatic efforts over Iran’s nuclear program.

In an annual speech to Vatican-based diplomats outlining the Holy See’s foreign policy priorities, Pope Benedict said efforts to block access to unconventional weapons are needed to avoid proliferation of nuclear arms.

“I wish to urge the international community to make a global commitment on security,” he said. “A joint effort on the part of states to implement all the obligations undertaken and to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction would undoubtedly strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime and make it more effective.”

The pope backed continuing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, which the U.S. and others fear intends to build atomic weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.

“I should also like to express my support for continued and uninterrupted pursuit of the path of diplomacy in order to resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program by negotiating in good faith, adopting measures designed to increase transparency and mutual trust,” he said.

Pope Benedict also told the foreign ambassadors that measures must be taken to reduce conventional weapons and to deal with the humanitarian problems caused by cluster weapons. Cluster bombs open in flight and scatter dozens of bomblets, some of which fail to explode and pose a risk to civilians even after a conflict.

In his speech, the pope also condemned the frequent attacks on Iraq’s Christian community, saying the country needs constitutional reform that will safeguard the rights of minorities.

Pope Benedict touched on many of the world’s crises, appealing for peace and dialogue in hot spots including the Middle East, Kenya, Sudan’s Darfur region and Burma.

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Francis Rooney said the pope’s message showed that the Vatican and the United States have the same foreign policy goals.

“We both place great importance on stopping the spread of terrorism and violence, aiding Christians who are under threat in many parts of the world today, and seeing an end to poverty and hunger which plague so much of Africa,” Mr. Rooney said.

Pope Benedict noted that this month marks the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to Cuba, and recalled how his predecessor “encouraged all Cubans to work together for a better future.”

“I should like to reiterate this message of hope, which has lost none of its relevance,” Pope Benedict said in his speech, which was delivered in French.

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