January 21, 1996 in Nation/World

Pope, Chirac Steer Clear Of Nuclear Testing In Talk Vatican Had Been Critical Of France’s Tests In Past

Associated Press

Pope John Paul II refrained from raising his opposition to nuclear testing during a meeting Saturday with Jacques Chirac, the first state visit by a French president to the Vatican in nearly four decades.

Chirac has been widely criticized for pushing ahead with nuclear tests in the South Pacific. Even the Vatican’s official newspaper greeted him with a reminder of the pope’s speech to foreign diplomats on Jan. 13, when he said an end to nuclear arms “must be realized as soon as possible.”

The pope and Chirac met privately for 40 minutes in the papal library. In their public remarks afterward, neither man mentioned nuclear testing.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro said the two steered clear of the subject in the private talk. They discussed the Balkans, Middle East, Africa and “the problems of French society, in particularly the aspirations of the young,” he said.

Chirac’s motorcade passed by about 50 anti-nuclear protesters in St. Peter’s square on the way to the meeting. One banner read, “Chirac, listen to the pope: Stop nuclear testing.”

France has sought to play down the pope’s comments. The French Foreign Ministry noted last week that John Paul never specifically criticized France, and was speaking of a longstanding church position calling for nuclear disarmament.

During the public part of their meeting, the pope paid homage to France’s motto of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” saying it was “widely inspired by the values of the Gospel.”

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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