Sunday Telegraph: Tony Blair was urged by the Pope yesterday to pursue diplomacy rather than conflict in Iran. The Sunday Telegraph
By Melissa Kite and Michael Hirst
Tony Blair was urged by the Pope yesterday to pursue diplomacy rather than conflict in Iran.
The Prime Minister’s audience with the Pontiff was described by Downing Street aides as “a dynamic discussion”.
While both sides sought to play down any hint of rancour, it was clear that the meeting had been dominated by discussion of the war in Iraq and the possibility of military action in Iran.
Mr Blair, an Anglican, was accompanied to the Vatican by his Roman Catholic wife, Cherie, and their two youngest children. The Prime Minister held 35 minutes of private talks with the Pope, after which his family received a blessing.
Mr Blair was in Rome after a week-long family holiday at the Tuscan estate of Prince Girolamo Guicciardini Strozzi.
A papal spokesman said the Pope had stressed the virtues of solidarity and peace. “The main discussion was the role of religion in politics and in society,” he said.
“The discussion underscored the contribution that common values among religions can make to dialogue, particularly with moderate Islam, above all in the areas of solidarity and peace.”
A Vatican source added: “Iran and Iraq were discussed at great length. The Holy Father stressed that diplomacy and not conflict was the way forward.”
During Mr Blair’s previous papal audience, in 2003, the late John Paul II expressed deep misgivings about the prospect of military action against Iraq.
His successor has taken a strong line on Islamic extremists and has condemned terrorism as a “moral perversion”.
Mr Blair gave a gift to the Pope – a CD of Mozart’s music. The German-born pontiff enjoys classical music, particularly Mozart, which he reportedly plays on his iPod.
Mr and Mrs Blair and their two youngest children, six-year-old Leo and Kathryn, 18, also prayed at the tomb of John Paul II in the crypt below St Peter’s Basilica.
Mr Blair’s aides refused to say whether he took the opportunity to extend an invitation to the Pope to visit Britain next year. Downing Street was said to have been hopeful that a visit might be arranged before Mr Blair leaves the premiership.
Speculation has been rife in Westminster for some time that Mr Blair, often described as a high-church Anglican, may convert to Roman Catholicism once he steps down.