l PRESIDENT Bush's current visit to Europe was originally built round events marking the liberation of Rome by Allied forces in 1944 and the 60th anniversary of D-Day on Sunday. Subsequently Mr Bush requested a meeting with the Pope while he was in Rome and rearranged his schedule to make this possible. George W Bush wears his Protestant religion on his sleeve more openly than any other Western leader. Many of his speeches include references to the inspiration and guidance he draws from his faith. So it is understandable that he would want to meet the Pope when an opportunity presented itself and, of course, the opportunity for a photo-opportunity with the Pontiff will do no harm to the President's re-election prospects in American states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where the Catholic vote could be decisive in November. None the less, there are risks for Mr Bush in his meeting with John Paul II who has been critical of the invasion of Iraq and the political philosophy behind it. In particular, the Pope has criticised America's assumption of the right to use pre-emptive force when necessary. In the Vatican view, no single state, however powerful, has this right, only the United Nations. The Vatican is also concerned to uphold international law, including the various Geneva Conventions, whereas Mr Bush tends to think that it has in part been rendered irrelevant by the new threat of terrorism. The Foreign Minister of the Vatican, Archibishop Giovanni Lajolo, recently described the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq as “a worse blow to the United States than September 11”. Presumably the Pope will express these views to President Bush in private, if not in their public appearances together.

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