Perino: Bush Plans To Brush Aside Iraq Disagreements During Meeting With The Pope

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"Perino: Bush Plans To Brush Aside Iraq Disagreements During Meeting With The Pope"

Today, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Washington, DC. He will become the second pontiff ever to visit the White House, where he will meet privately with President Bush in the Oval Office. The event is just the 25th meeting between a pope and a sitting president.

Pope Benedict has severely criticized the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. “Nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees,” he said in his 2007 Easter message.

During today’s White House press briefing, spokeswoman Dana Perino brushed aside the two men’s disagreements over the Iraq war, saying that they don’t have “prolonged conversations about it.” She also attempted to claim that the Pope has accepted Bush’s so-called “surge” strategy. She added, not surprisingly, that Bush doesn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the war:

PERINO: Obviously, there was a difference of opinion, back in 2003 and beyond, in subsequent years. But now I think that there is an understanding that, with the strategy that’s working in Iraq right now, that the most important thing we can do is help to solidify the situation, root it into freedom and democracy, so that people of religious minorities who — I’m sorry, people of religious faith who are minorities in their countries can practice freely and be free from persecution. [...]

I really don’t think that the president is planning to spend a lot of time talking about the issues of Iraq with the pope.

Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2008/04/popeperino54.320.240.flv]

Pope Benedict’s predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, was also a fierce critic of the U.S. invasion. In January 2003, he called war “a defeat for humanity” and said it should not be pursued “except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations.”

Transcript:

QUESTION: Yes, actually, I wanted to follow on the subject that you spoke of for the meeting. Last year in his Easter message, the pope said, Nothing positive comes from Iraq. How does the president speak to the Holy Father about that subject?

PERINO: Well, they have a relationship that is based on trust and they are able to have frank conversations. I will say that — well, Iraq has come up in the past when the president has talked to the pope. As I understand it, they’re not long — they’re not prolonged conversations about it.

Obviously, there was a difference of opinion, back in 2003 and beyond, in subsequent years. But now I think that there is an understanding that, with the strategy that’s working in Iraq right now, that the most important thing we can do is help to solidify the situation, root it into freedom and democracy, so that people of religious minorities who — I’m sorry, people of religious faith who are minorities in their countries can practice freely and be free from persecution.

And that is something that they share. I expect them to touch on that a little bit.

QUESTION: But on the war, you expect them to say, We just politely disagree. Let’s move on?

PERINO: I don’t expect any public conversation about it, but they will have a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office. And it’s possible that it could come up. I won’t rule it out. But I don’t think it will be — I don’t think it will dominate the conversation in any way. [...]

QUESTION: Dana, back to Iraq, I was struck by what you said, that the most important thing we can do now is to sort of — is it basically finish and to bring about peace.

And I wonder, will the president try to make that case to the pope? In other words, even though he may have disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq, that will he now try to find common ground in this way to say, Look, the best thing we can do there now is …

(CROSSTALK)

PERINO: I really don’t think that the president is planning to spend a lot of time talking about the issues of Iraq with the pope. There’s many different issues that they can talk about, all the ones that I listed before in response to Jennifer’s question.

But I do think at the root cause — the root issue of terrorism and extremism is something that they will talk about. And the president will thank Pope Benedict for deciding to go and visit Ground Zero and pay his respects there. And the president thinks that’s a very important gesture.

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