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Bush to Meet with Pope's Emissary Wednesday - 2003-03-04


President Bush meets Wednesday with an emissary of Pope John Paul II who is expected to ask Mr. Bush to back away from possible military action in Iraq. The meeting coincides with the Vatican's call for a day of fasting Wednesday to mark the suffering of Iraqi citizens under U.N. sanctions.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush is looking forward to Wednesday's meeting with special envoy Cardinal Pio Laghi.

Mr. Fleischer said the president and the Pope both hope that the United Nations can peacefully resolve the issue of Iraq's suspected stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

But while the Pope said there is no moral or legal justification for war, Mr. Fleischer said President Bush believes the "most immoral act of all" would be allowing Iraq to help terrorists use weapons of mass destruction against the United States.

Mr. Fleischer said he does not want to pre-judge the substance of the message Cardinal Laghi is carrying from the Pope, but he said President Bush views the use of force "as a matter of legality, as a matter of morality, and as a matter of protecting the American people."

"If there are those who differ with the president on this, the president respects their opinion and respects their ideas and respects their thoughts. He listens. He listens carefully. In the end, the president will make the judgment that he thinks is best needed to protect our country," Mr. Fleischer said.

With more than 200,000 U.S. troops already in the region or on their way, President Bush says he is ready to lead his own coalition against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein if the U.N. Security Council fails to disarm him.

The Pope says war in Iraq would be a "defeat for humanity" and said efforts to disarm the country peacefully should continue.

That is in keeping with a French, German, and Russian proposal to extend the work of U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq. The Bush Administration opposes that move because it says it would give Saddam Hussein more time to hide illegal weapons and distract the international community.

The pontiff called for a day of fasting Wednesday to provide "greater understanding" of the "difficulties and sufferings" of Iraqis who he said are "confronted by hunger, misery, and war."