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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 17:41 GMT
Papal envoy prepares for Saddam meeting
Cardinal Roger Etchegaray with Taha Yassin Ramadan (c) and Tariq Aziz
The cardinal said both sides were listening to each other
Cardinal Roger Etchegaray has said he has been assured he will be given an opportunity to meet Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The envoy was sent to Baghdad by Pope John Paul II to deliver a personal message from the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

We saw the importance for... a climate of reciprocal confidence between all, based on facts

Cardinal Etchegaray
after meeting Iraqi officials
But no date has yet been set for the meeting, Cardinal Etchegaray said.

He held talks with two of Saddam's key deputies - Taha Yassin Ramadan and Tariq Aziz - on Wednesday, the day after arriving in the Iraqi capital from Rome.

"I can assure you that I will see President Saddam Hussein and will deliver to him" the Pope's message, Cardinal Etchegaray said.

He described his meeting with Mr Ramadan and Mr Aziz as "in itself a sign of the interest that we both have in listening to each other, in hearing each other, in listening to points of view which all converge on a just peace".

"During this meeting... we saw the importance for... a climate of reciprocal confidence between all, based on facts," he said.

Mr Ramadan said he had described to the papal envoy how Iraq was co-operating with United Nations demands for it to allow inspectors to check its claims that it had no banned weapons.

Cardinal Etchegaray said the co-operation was "a good sign" and said Iraq was showing "a desire for dynamic peace".

Pope's concern

The Pope decided to intervene in the crisis earlier this month.

His aides say he is profoundly concerned over the possibility of war and the effects conflict would have on the Iraqi people, 3% of whom are Catholics.

Though retired, Cardinal Etchegaray remains an important behind-the-scenes figure in the Vatican.

He has travelled to the Middle East on Vatican business numerous times before.


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09 Feb 03 | Business
09 Feb 03 | Europe
09 Feb 03 | Middle East
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