The Pope and the President: Two Approaches to the G-20 Summit

As the G-20 Summit gets underway in St. Petersburg, things are tense between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian president has warned that a U.S. military strike against Syria would be considered “an act of aggression” if the move was not first unanimously approved by the United Nations Security Council.  And just yesterday, Putin accused Secretary of State John Kerry of “lying” to Congress over al Qaeda’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.  According to Reuters, Putin had watched the debates in Congress, and saw a congressman (Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-SC) direct a question to Kerry.  Mr. Putin relayed the discussion to his human rights council in the Kremlin:

“I saw debates in Congress. A congressman asks Mr Kerry: ‘Is al Qaeda there?’  He says: ‘No, I am telling you responsibly that it is not’.”

Putin continued, referring to the United States:

“Al Qaeda units are the main military echelon, and they know this.  It was unpleasant and surprising for me—we talk to them, we proceed from the assumption that they are decent people.  But he is lying and knows he is lying.  It’s sad.”

Add President Obama’s aggressive stance in support of U.S. military intervention to the existing tensions caused by Russia’s granting of temporary asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, and tensions between the U.S. and Russia are reminiscent of the Cold War years.

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Meanwhile at the Vatican, Pope Francis has also contacted President Putin.  Addressing Mr. Putin with the expectation that his remarks will be shared with the entire G20 delegation, Pope Francis wrote,

“It is regrettable that, from the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, one-sided interests have prevailed and in fact hindered the search for a solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding.”

To Putin, to Obama, and to the other 18 world leaders gathered in Russia today, the Holy Father expressed his hope for a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis:

“To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.”

The full text of Pope Francis’ letter, as released by the Vatican Information Service, is below.

Please join with our Holy Father, and with religious leaders and others from around the world, in praying this Saturday, September 7, that God’s plan will prevail and that a peaceful solution will be found to the conflict which has taken lives, obstructed freedom, and destroyed hope throughout the Middle East.

Pope Francis’ Message to Vladimir Putin:

G20 Countries Must Not Remain Inert Before the Drama in Syria

 “In today’s highly interdependent context, a global financial framework with its own just and clear rules is required in order to achieve a more equitable and fraternal world, in which it is possible to overcome hunger, ensure decent employment and housing for all, as well as essential healthcare. Your presidency of the G20 this year has committed itself to consolidating the reform of the international financial organizations and to achieving a consensus on financial standards suited to today’s circumstances. However, the world economy will only develop if it allows a dignified way of life for all human beings, from the eldest to the unborn child, not just for citizens of the G20 member states but for every inhabitant of the earth, even those in extreme social situations or in the remotest places.

“From this standpoint, it is clear that, for the world’s peoples, armed conflicts are always a deliberate negation of international harmony, and create profound divisions and deep wounds which require many years to heal. Wars are a concrete refusal to pursue the great economic and social goals that the international community has set itself, as seen, for example, in the Millennium Development Goals. Unfortunately, the many armed conflicts which continue to afflict the world today present us daily with dramatic images of misery, hunger, illness and death. Without peace, there can be no form of economic development. Violence never begets peace, the necessary condition for development.

“The meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the twenty most powerful economies, with two-thirds of the world’s population and ninety per cent of global GDP, does not have international security as its principal purpose. Nevertheless, the meeting will surely not forget the situation in the Middle East and particularly in Syria. It is regrettable that, from the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, one-sided interests have prevailed and in fact hindered the search for a solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding. The leaders of the G20 cannot remain indifferent to the dramatic situation of the beloved Syrian people which has lasted far too long, and even risks bringing greater suffering to a region bitterly tested by strife and needful of peace. To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution. Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community. Moreover, all governments have the moral duty to do everything possible to ensure humanitarian assistance to those suffering because of the conflict, both within and beyond the country’s borders”.

In conclusion, the Pope promised to pray for the successful outcome of the G20’s work, and asked President Putin to pray for him.

  • nannon31

    Reports like yours keep excusing the lack of papal letters to Obama and to Hollande and others as motivated by Putin heading the G20 but something more clever at least at first sight may be up. Putin is the only one who is an ally of Assad and without Assad, there is no dialogue about anything. But Pope Francis while really writing to the ally of Assad is forgetting that any international settlement of this is also going to lead to Assad and al Nusra facing an international court for each gassing civilians inter alia. That makes only one player who would want dialogue…the actual Syrian non jihadist rebels. I can’t see Francis’ hope as being tethered to the real dynamics. Assad gets jail if he submits to international dialogue as does al Nusra.

  • hamiltonr

    Excellent post Kathy!


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