Bush and Powell to urge Sharon to return to talks with the Holy See

Washington (AsiaNews) - The meeting between Colin Powell and Ariel Sharon, planned for tomorrow (Thursday) should have on the agenda not only relations between Israelis and Palestinians, but also the relations between Israel and the Catholic Church, the Holy See. Accoding to sources of AsiaNews in Washington, it is possible that also President Bush himself, in his meeting with Mr. Sharon has made reference to the interruption in the negotiations between Israel and the Holy See.

AsiaNews has learnt that on 23 March the Chairman of the international relations commitee of the US House of representatives, Henry Hyde, a devout Catholic and one of the most influential statesmen of the Republican Party (which hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, as well as being President Bush's own Party) wrote officially to Secretary of State Colin Powell to ask that the US obtain Israel's return to the negotiations with the Holy See, negotiations that teh Israeli government deserted unilaterally on 28 August last year. Chairman Hyde's letter, while not officially released, was in part quoted by the well known conservative columnist Robert Novak on 1 April. It has been followed by other initiatives, all in the same direction, with messages addressed by Catholic authorities both to the Administration and to Israel's Ambassador in Washington.

A catholic jurist, close to the negotiations abandoned by the Israeli government, has explained to AsiaNews that an intervention by the United States would be more than justified, indeed "a duty".

Years ago the US government insistently asked the Holy See to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. That it exercised such persuasion on the Holy See was revealed by Thomas Melady, former US ambassador to the Holy See. Such a move (establishing diplomatic relations with Israel) was also favoured by many US Jewish organizations and by American Catholic circles. Therefore now, the expert has said, the "United States may have a political and moral duty to convince Israel to honour its agreements with the Catholic Church". He adds: On the eve of the US elections, given the importance President Bush assignis to the Catholic vote, the concerns of the Church, supported by eminent Republican statesmen like Hyde, may well be reflected in teh conversations between the US and Israel".

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