Vatican Spokesman Denies Report About U.S. Military Delay

Also Says There´s No Evidence that Pope Is a Terrorist Target

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan, SEPT. 23, 2001 ( Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls denied media reports which said the U.S. government assured the Pope that a military intervention would not begin in Afghanistan or the region during the papal visit to Kazakhstan.

The reports in the Russian and Roman media were reflected in part in a ZENIT story on Sept. 20.

In the Kazakh capital, Navarro-Valls answered reporters´ questions about the Holy Father´s health and about a possible terrorist attack against him.

Q: Did anyone ask John Paul II to postpone his trip to Kazakhstan and Armenia?

Navarro-Valls: I cannot confirm it. This was a trip planned a long time ago; the two countries had prepared everything.

Obviously the Pope discussed the wisdom of undertaking it with his collaborators, but from the first moment he said, This trip must be made.

Of course, the international situation is worrying. However, in this atmosphere, the Pope´s visit to Kazakhstan, where there are so many minorities, assumes a new symbolic dimension, in which the Pontiff can exhort to mutual coexistence among peoples.

Q: Did you receive guarantees from the United States on the fact that there will be no attack until the Pope has completed his trip?

Navarro-Valls: I can deny it. We have not received these guarantees and, above all, we have not requested them. Neither have they been spontaneously offered to us.

Q: There has been talk of the Vatican and the Pope as possible objectives of Muslim terrorists. Is it a serious threat?

Navarro-Valls: I cannot pass judgment on the seriousness of these affirmations, as there are no facts to confirm it of which we are aware. I have read it in the newspapers, but no information has been received, supported by facts.

Q: Why hasn´t Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the [Vatican] Secretary of State, come with the Pope?

Navarro-Valls: For a logistical reason. These days there have been contacts with the authorities of several countries and religious communities that wish to know the Pope´s point of view on the international situation, or that wish to discuss different points of view with the Holy See.

It would have been difficult to do all this work while [traveling] through Kazakhstan and Armenia. For this reason, the Pope asked the secretary of state to maintain these contacts in Rome. It is a logistical reason.

Q: Here in Astana there is talk of possible infiltrations from Afghanistan through the southern border, through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Navarro-Valls: The topic of security, here in Astana, does not cause concern. As regards rumors that speak of infiltrations, I think that it is more about attempts at emigration from Afghanistan to the countries of this region, because of fear of a possible situation of violence.

Q: Does the Pope fear an indiscriminate reprisal?

Navarro-Valls: We must pay attention and see what happens. In the speeches given by the Pontiff in recent days, the parameters of an ethical character have been mentioned in addressing this difficult situation — and this, since the day of the disaster, in the telegram sent immediately to President Bush.

The Pope will return to the argument. I have seen that in the last days he has touched up speeches he had already prepared.

Q: John Paul II seems tired these days. How is his health?

Navarro-Valls: The very fact he undertakes a trip like this, with changes in climate, language — he will always speak in Russian — is a diagnosis and an answer.

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