|The Pontifical Academy of Sciences|
Two Americans are among the key political experts invited by the Vatican for a January 13 conference aimed at promoting a cease-fire in Syria, the protection of Christians there, and a transitional and unified government.
The two U.S. participants in the one-day meeting are economist and advisor Jeffrey Sachs, who is active in the world fight against poverty and hunger, and Thomas Walsh, international president of the Universal Peace Federation and a U.S. expert in interreligious peace building and security.
The title for the workshop is “Syria: With a death toll of 126,000 and 300,000 orphans in 36 months of war, can we remain indifferent?”
The Vatican meeting, which is sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, will precede major peace talks scheduled for January 22 in Geneva between the Syrian government and opposition forces. The Vatican will seek to propose “a cease-fire to make humanitarian aid possible” in Syria; an end to “persecutions against Christians to encourage interreligious dialogue; a transitional authority to organize elections (and) a unified national government also responsible for the military sector and security;” as well as an end to human trafficking and prostitution in the war-torn nation.
An eight-page program prepared by the Pontifical Academy gave a brief background of the Syrian conflict. It said U.S. calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down “put the U.S. in effective opposition to the United Nations’ peace initiative” put forth in early 2012.
According to the booklet, “Russia argued that America’s insistence on Assad’s immediate departure was an impediment to peace. In this, perhaps Russia was right.” However, it continued, while Russia backed UN peace initiatives, it also–along with Iran–“supplied more and more sophisticated weapons to the regime” as the U.S. and other countries financed the rebels.
The workshop program also outlined Pope Francis' calls, prayers and diplomatic efforts for peace in the region.
Opening remarks at the workshop will be delivered by French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Other experts and leaders invited by the Vatican to participate, in addition to Americans Sachs and Walsh, include:
· Tony Blair, founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and official envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East: the U.N., European Union, Russia and the United States.
· Former Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a major figure in Egypt’s revolution against ousted Presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Morsi.
· Pyotr Stegny, a former diplomat and expert in Russian diplomacy and foreign policy in the Middle East.
· Joseph Maila, a Lebanese expert on the Middle East, Islam and politics.
· Miguel Angel Moratinos, a Spanish diplomat and member of congress who served seven years as the European Union special representative for the Middle East peace process.
· Thierry de Montbrial, a French economist and expert in international relations.
According to a report from Radio Vaticana,
With the upcoming "Geneva II" talks, the "resumption of the U.N. peace process, this time with the U.S. and Russia on the same side to prevent violence, might succeed in keeping al-Qaida at bay—a shared interest—and finding a pragmatic long-term solution for Syria's complex internal divisions."
Meanwhile, a two-person delegation representing the Syrian government delivered a letter for Pope Francis from Assad. The letter was delivered Dec. 28 when the Syrians met at the Vatican with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican foreign minister, and gave a ‘message’ to the Pope.
The January talks in Geneva are a follow-up to a meeting in June 2012 when international parties proposed a peace plan calling for a transitional government body in an effort to end a civil war that began in March 2011.
Catholic News Service reports that the conflict between Assad's government and rebel forces has killed more than 100,000 people, driven 2 million refugees out of Syria and displaced more than 4 million inside the country.