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Pompeo in tense visit to Vatican as US vote nears

Pompeo in tense visit to Vatican as US vote nears

ROME, oct 1: Secretary of State Mike
Pompeo visits Rome Wednesday, just a month
ahead of the US elections and hot on the
heels of a diplomatic breach with the
Vatican, that experts see as an effort to
win conservative Catholic votes.
Pompeo will not meet Pope Francis because
the pontiff avoids such audiences in
campaign periods, a Vatican source said.
Analysts say the pope has also been
angered by Pompeo’s public calls for a
historic Vatican-China accord to be
scrapped.
Instead, Pompeo will speak at a symposium
organised by the Holy See’s US embassy in
the Italian capital on Wednesday, before
meeting the Vatican’s Secretary of State
Cardinal Pietro Parolin on Thursday.
Francis has been working hard to repair
ties with China, but his overtures run
contrary to US President Donald Trump’s
efforts to push a religious freedom theme
against the Communist country in his
campaign for a second term.
Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, went on
the offensive earlier this month, calling
a Sino-Vatican 2018 agreement on
appointing bishops, which is up for
renewal, a risk to the church’s “moral
authority” given Beijing’s human rights
record.
Powerful cardinal Oscar Maradiaga said the
US intervention was unwelcome, and clearly
linked to the election campaign, reports
AFP.
“They’re looking for Donald Trump to get
elected, and everything is based on that
logic. In this sense, I don’t think
they’re acting in the interests of
Americans,” he said in an interview with
the Repubblica daily on the eve of
Pompeo’s visit.
Francis’s opening towards China had
particularly angered the “anti-Francis”
network close to the US president, he
said, led by Archbishop Carlo Maria
Vigano, the Vatican’s former envoy to the
US, and Steve Bannon, Trump’s former
advisor, reports AFP.
Massimo Faggioli, a theologian at the
Villanova Catholic University in the
US, said there was a concerted effort
under way to “turn a certain anti-
Francis and anti-Vatican sentiment, which
has become more visible in recent
years, into votes for Trump”.
“Vatican diplomacy is being used for
propaganda,” he said.
According to the Pew Research Centre,
around half of Catholic registered voters
describe themselves as Republicans or lean
toward the Republican Party, while roughly
the same identify with or lean toward the
Democratic Party.
A “notable majority of white Catholics”
voted for Trump last time, Faggioli said,
and “the plan is to keep this bloc of
white Catholic voters in some states where
it is especially needed”.
Pompeo is also set Wednesday to meet
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio to discuss
US efforts to deter European allies from
using equipment by Chinese manufacturer
Huawei in developing their 5G networks.
The US accuses Huawei of being a tool for
Chinese espionage.
Italy insists its Golden Power law — which
allows the government to impose
conditions, restrictions or a ban on
foreign investment in strategic industries
— protects it from risk.
Nonetheless, Conte promised last week to
take stronger measures to ensure national
security in the country’s 5G networks.
Talks will likely also touch on Italy’s
involvement in China’s ambitious “Belt and
Road” trade and infrastructure investment
plan.
Rome became the first G7 country to sign
up to the plan last year, a move sharply
criticised by those who fear the
investment scheme will allow key trade
secrets and technologies to slip into
Beijing’s hands.

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