Francis tells US, North Korea to cool nuclear tensions, seek mediation

Pope Francis speaks to journalists aboard his flight from Cairo to Rome April 29. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis speaks to journalists aboard his flight from Cairo to Rome April 29. (CNS/Paul Haring)

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has told the United States and North Korea to deescalate their nuclear tensions, saying their ongoing dispute over weapons testing has become "too hot" and suggesting they might ask a third country to intervene and act as a mediator.

In a half-hour press conference aboard the papal flight from Egypt Saturday, the pope also warned U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that a nuclear war would destroy "a big part of humanity."

"I call on them ... as I have called on leaders of various places, to work towards resolving problems through the path of diplomacy," he said.

"There are many facilitators in the world," Francis said, offering the country Norway as an example. "There are mediators that offer themselves. There are countries ... ready to help."

"A prolonged war would destroy ... a big part of humanity," he warned. "Let us stop ourselves. Let us search for a diplomatic solution."

Francis was responding April 29 to a question on what he wanted to say to Trump and Kim following weeks of escalating tensions between their two countries.

On April 28, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the U.N. Security Council that North Korea's continuing development of its nuclear missile program could lead to "catastrophic consequences." Kim responded April 29 with the test firing of another ballistic missile, the fourth since March.

That test came as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group arrived in waters near the Korean peninsula. North Korea earlier threatened to attack the carrier should it take any provocative actions.

Francis singled out the United Nations as needing to take more leadership in the situation, saying the abilities of the international organization had been "watered-down."

"I believe that the U.N. has the duty to reassume leadership a bit," said the pope.

Francis also told the journalists he is willing to meet with Trump, should the president desire to make a trip to the Vatican around the time of his expected May 26-27 visit to a G7 leaders summit in Sicily.

Although White House spokesman Sean Spicer said earlier this month that Trump would seek a papal meeting, no indications have been given in recent days that the Vatican has been sent such a request.

The pope said April 29 his diplomatic officials had not yet told him if a request had come from the Washington.

"I have not been informed by the Secretariat of State yet if there has been a request but I receive every head of state who asks for an audience," he said.

Francis was also asked in the April 29 press conference about remarks he gave in Rome April 22, in which he criticized the treatment migrants receive in refugee centers and said some are even akin to concentration camps. The American Jewish Committee later called the wordchoice "regrettable."

"It was not a slip of the tongue," Francis told the journalists.

"There are refugee camps that are true concentration camps," he continued, saying that in some camps refugees are enclosed behind walls and cannot leave the environs.

Francis also spoke at length about his two-day trip to Egypt, in which he addressed a peace conference hosted by Sunni Muslim grand imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, met with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and signed a joint declaration with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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