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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Tariq Aziz Visits Franciscan Monks in Assisi

Aired February 15, 2003 - 08:12   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Prayers for peace from an Iraqi leader. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has wrapped up a three day visit to Italy by praying with Franciscan monks in Assisi.
CNN Vatican analyst Delia Gallagher is in Assisi and joins us now with more on Aziz's visit -- that's a lot of zizes, isn't it?

Delia, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

I'd like to ask, first of all, what is the purpose of these meetings?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: Well, good morning, Heidi.

Of course, all over Europe today there have been protests for peace. But here in Assisi there is prayer for peace. Tariq Aziz is a Christian and so he has been invited here by the Franciscan brothers, who run the basilica that you see behind me, to pray at the tomb of St. Francis. It's a highly symbolic visit more than anything else, after his visit with the pope yesterday, because St. Francis was one of the first Christians to attempt dialogue with the Muslims, traveling to Egypt, Syria, Morocco during the Crusades.

So more than anything, this is a symbolic visit. Of course, some people say that Aziz is attempting to gain sympathy on the world stage. But the Vatican says that they have to keep dialogue with Iraq open in order to continue any possible chance at peace -- Heidi.

COLLINS: That's right. And, in fact, the meeting with the pope was actually requested by Aziz himself, right?

GALLAGHER: Yes, that's correct.

Again, Aziz is a Christian. He has come to the Vatican several times already, so he has a rapport with Pope John Paul II. Of course, it was welcomed by the Vatican. They stated that they wanted to keep open these lines of communication. The pope reiterated his concern for the Iraqi people in the event of a war. And, as we know, Aziz said that his country was willing to fully cooperate with the U.N. inspectors -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Delia, if you would, take a moment with me here. We want to look at some sound and some video yesterday right after Aziz's meeting with the pope and what happened when he was dealing with the Israeli press.

Let's listen in to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: When I came to this press conference, it was not on my agenda to answer questions by the Israeli media. Sorry.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, is it possible for you to answer to our colleague? He is a journalist. He is a member of the foreign press office. Is it possible for you to answer his questions?

AZIZ: No, I am not going to answer his question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Delia, your reaction to that? Why didn't he want to talk to them?

GALLAGHER: Well, Heidi, I can only tell you that the press was very disturbed by that reaction. Of course, Aziz is a seasoned diplomat, so most people were surprised by his reaction to the Israeli journalists. Now, it's interesting because one Vatican official told me yesterday that the Vatican feels they have to talk to Aziz because nobody else is talking to them and yet Aziz obviously feels he doesn't have to talk to everybody. But it's a question of politics and that's what happened yesterday -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Of course, this is important for international public opinion, I would imagine. But truly when the pope says that he is not in favor of war and we must do everything we can all across the world to avoid war, this is not a new message coming from the pope. It seems to me that obviously peace would be something that he would pray for and will always pray for.

GALLAGHER: Well, that's right. Of course, the difference here is that he's being joined in prayer by the deputy prime minister of Iraq. So the symbolism here is more for Iraq. Obviously the Vatican has always represented peace and this pope has spoken out about it. But the fact that Tariq Aziz has taken this opportunity to come to Italy and to show the world that he is willing to cooperate, now whether or not that's the actual circumstance, we don't know. But at least as far as public relations are concerned, that's what the deputy prime minister of Iraq has done -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, CNN's Vatican analyst, Delia Gallagher.

Thanks so much -- Miles, back over to you.

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