ROME (Jan. 15)
Pope Paul VI today received Mrs. Golda Meir for a one hour and twenty minute audience, the first ever to be granted to an Israeli Prime Minister in the Vatican. Immediately afterwards, however, a Vatican spokesman issued a blunt statement to say that “The Holy See has not changed its attitude over the Middle East and there was no reason whatsoever for such a change.
The Vatican statement, which was issued by Vatican spokesman Prof. Frederico Allessandrini, was considered to be unusually harsh and blunt by most diplomatic observers here. It specified that the meeting was not “A gesture of preference or of exclusivity as the Pope has received King Hussein of Jordan and other persons of the Arab world.” It also noted that the Vatican has cordial relations with Egypt, Lebanon and Syria and has diplomatic relations with various other Arab countries.
The statement–verbal rather than a formal written one–said that the attitude of the Vatican on the Middle East was made known by the Pope in his speech to the Cardinals of Dec. 22,1972. In that speech, the Pope called for the internationalization of the holy places in Jerusalem and for the rights of the Palestinian refugees.
(In New York, Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, co-secretary of the joint Vatican-International Jewish Committee, contended today that the “grudging” and “harsh” statement issued by Vatican spokesman Frederico Allessandrini following today’s meeting between Pope Paul Vl and Premier Golda Meir of Israel did not alter the fact that the meeting amounted to “nothing less than de facto diplomatic recognition of Israel” by the Vatican.) (See Page 3 for separate story.)
CLAIM MRS. MEIR SOUGHT MEETING
Prof. Allessandrini went out of his way to stress that Mrs. Meir had asked for the audience, contradicting Israeli government statements which had said that the invitation had come from the Holy See. He further specified that the audience was granted “because the Holy Father feels his duty not to miss any occasion to act in favor of peace and in the defense of the rights of human persons and especially of those who are the weakest and the most defenseless, namely the refugees from Palestine.”
The Vatican spokesman said that Mrs. Meir’s visit had not been the object of any previous negotiations or confrontations and had only taken advantage of her trip to Paris- Mrs. Meir attended a two-day conference of the Socialist International in Paris.
The Israeli Premier, who was accompanied by the Israeli Ambassador in Rome, Amiel Najar, spent nearly 80 minutes with the Holy Father in his private library. A Vatican statement said that she outlined Israel’s desire for peace and illustrated Israel’s attempts at reaching a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict through negotiations. She also discussed the upsurge of terrorism and mentioned the plight of various Jewish communities in certain parts of the world.
Earlier today Mrs. Meir called on the Italian President Giovanni Leoni, at the Quirinal Palace. This was described as a “courtesy call.” Mrs. Meir was also due to meet with Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti. Strict security measures were taken by the Italian police but these seemed far less spectacular than those adopted by the French during Mrs. Meir’s two-day stay in Paris. Mrs. Meir arrived last night and is due to return to Israel tomorrow.