The White House is downplaying but not ruling out using Pope Francis as a back channel for contact with Iran.
At the regular briefing for reporters at the White House Monday, press secretary Jen Psaki discussed the administration’s willingness to “sit at a table and have a diplomatic conversation, because we are looking to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and we believe diplomacy is the best way to do that.”
Noting that Pope Francis has had extensive contacts with the Iranian government and that President Joe Biden has an excellent relationship with the spiritual leader of his fellow Roman Catholics, Newsmax asked whether the pope is or would be a possible back channel for dealings with the government in Tehran.
“Well, you’re correct, he does” have a relationship with the pope, Psaki said. There’s a picture in the Oval Office “that is a reflection of that.”
But, she added, “the proper channels, at this point, are: We’re going to work in partnership and through the P5+1 partners and allies we worked through for the first round of the — putting the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear agreement scrapped by the Trump administration] together.”
“We’re waiting, at this point, to hear back” from Iran, Psaki said. “The Europeans are waiting to hear back from the Iranians on whether they are open to that diplomatic conversation. So, really, the discussions are at that stage at this point.”
Pressed by Newsmax as to whether the pope would be involved in the process, she said: “I certainly would never claim to speak for Pope Francis or any pope. And you can certainly reach out to the Vatican if they have intention of getting engaged in some capacity.”
The pope has had a long and cordial relationship with Iran’s spiritual and political leadership. In 2016, he welcomed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to the Vatican. Last year, Iran’s Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad Ahmadabadi wrote Pope Francis to “humbly ask you, as a beloved world leader of Catholics, to intervene so that those [U.S.] sanctions are eliminated.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.