Pope warns of risks from US-Iran tensions in policy speech

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis warned Thursday that increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran are setting the stage for a broader conflict in the Mideast while jeopardizing efforts to rebuild Iraq.

Francis listed the “particularly troubling” deterioration of U.S.-Iran relations following the U.S. strike that killed Iran’s top general in his annual foreign policy address that also touched on climate change and nuclear proliferation.

Speaking to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, Francis denounced the “pall of silence” among world leaders about the long-running war in Syria, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the intensified fighting in Libya in his global roundup of areas of concern for the Catholic Church.

Vatican officials and Christian leaders in Iraq have voiced alarm about Friday’s airstrike in Iraq that killed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard's powerful Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani, and what it means for Iraq’s already beleaguered Christian minorities.

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TOPSHOT - Pope Francis laughs as he greets people during his weekly general audience at the Paul VI audience Hall on December 7, 2016 in Vatican. / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 26: Pope Francis attends his general weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on October 26, 2016 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Pope Francis wears a traditional Mexican sombrero hat received as a gift by a Mexican journalist on February 12, 2016, aboard the plane to Havana. Pope Francis headed to Cuba on Friday looking to heal a 1,000-year-old rift in Christianity before embarking on a tour of Mexico dominated by modern day problems of drug-related violence and migration. / AFP / POOL / ALESSANDRO DI MEO (Photo credit should read ALESSANDRO DI MEO/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Pope Francis (L) walk through the colonnade prior to an Oval Office meeting at the White House on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Pope begins his first trip to the United States at the White House followed by a visit to St. Matthew's Cathedral, and will then hold a Mass on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) (Photo by Alex Wong/WHITE HOUSE POOL (ISP POOL IMAGES)/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Pope Francis gestures to his watch to apologize for not being able to greet everyone at the end of a midday prayer with US bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC, on September 23, 2015 on the second day of his six-day visit to the US. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - NOVEMBER 26: Pope Francis attends his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on November 26, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. During today's General Audience Pope Francis told pilgrims the Church is on a continuing journey towards heaven. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JUNE 25: Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square on June 25, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. This will be the last Pope's weekly audience before the suspension of the event for the summer. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis matle blown by the wind covers his face as he leads the weekly general audience at St Peter's square on August 27, 2014 in Vatican City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) wears a plastic poncho as he waves to well wishers after a mass in Tacloban on January 17, 2015. Pope Francis will spend an emotional day in the Philippines on January 17 with survivors of a catastrophic super typhoon that claimed thousands of lives, highlighting his concern over climate change. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - AUGUST 04: Pope Francis waves as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for an audience with thousands of altar servers from around Europe on August 4, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The encounter was part of the ninth International Pilgrimage of Acolytes and Altar Servers. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
A pilgrim throws a blue hat in direction of Pope Francis (C) as he stands on the popemobile and waves to the crowd in St Peter's square for the 60th anniversary of the Comunione e Liberazione (Communion and Liberation) catholic mouvement on March 7, 2015 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
A balloon flies past Pope Francis during his general audience in St Peter's Square at the Vatican on May 14, 2014. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JANUARY 29: Pope Francis kisses a little girl as he arrives at his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on January 29, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. After his appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, today Pontiff was also found to be represented in a graffiti in Rome that portrays him in a superhero vest. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Pope Francis waves from the back of his Fiat after arriving from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Francis will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as pope. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis loses his 'papalina' cup as he catches a baseball ball thrown by a faithful at the end of his weekly audience at St. Peter's Square on September 24, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. During his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis reflected on his Apostolic Voyage to Albania. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis attends his general audience at St Peter's square on May 28, 2014 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
APARECIDA, BRAZIL - JULY 24: Pope Francis takes communion as he celebrates Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida on July 24, 2013 in Aparecida, Brazil. The shrine attracts millions each year and honors the dark-skinned Virgin of Aparecida, who is considered the patron saint of Brazil. Pilgrims throughout the world are joining Pope Francis for his visits to various locations in Brazil from July 22- July 28 during the Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebrations. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Pope Francis takes a sip of 'Mate', a traditional South American infused drink, with Argentinian soldiers of the United Nation during the weekly general audience at St Peter's square on February 3, 2016 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI / AFP / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Pope Francis looks on as artists perform during his weekly general audience in St Peter's square on February 3, 2016 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI / AFP / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - SEPTEMBER 16: The robes of Pope Francis are blown over his head by a gust of wind as he holds his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on September 16, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Francis on Wednesday appealed for prayers for his Apostolic Voyage to Cuba and to the United States, which begins on Saturday. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis reacts during the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Pope Francis adjusts his mantle blown by a gust of wind as he leads the weekly audience is Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican September 16, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Pope Francis smiles onboard the papal plane during his return to Rome, from Asuncion, Paraguay July 12, 2015. Pope Francis left for Rome on Sunday at the end of a trip to South America during which he censured capitalism, championed the rights of the poor, warned of irreversible damage to the planet and urged youths to "make a mess". Picture taken July 12, 2015. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Pope Francis reacts as he is greeted by cloistered nuns at the Duomo during his pastoral visit in Naples March 21, 2015 REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A gust of wind blows Pope Francis's skull cap off during his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Pope Francis gestures during a meeting with Asian youths at the Solmoe Shrine in Dangjin August 15, 2014. The pope began his five-day trip to South Korea on Thursday. The main purpose of the trip is to preside at the gathering of Asian Catholic youth and beatify 124 people killed for their faith in the 18th century. REUTERS/Ahn Young-joon/Pool (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: RELIGION PROFILE POLITICS SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
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Francis had hoped to travel to Iraq this year to minister to faithful who have endured years of attacks and persecution by the Islamic State group. No trip was ever confirmed, however, and it’s not clear how increased instability in Iraq might affect Vatican planning. But Francis made clear the American strike and Iran’s response to it was worrisome in the volatile region.

“Particularly troubling are the signals coming from the entire region following the heightening of tensions between Iran and the United States, which risk above all compromising the gradual process of rebuilding in Iraq, as well as setting the groundwork for a vaster conflict that all of us would want to avert,” Francis told the ambassadors in the frescoed Sala Regia. “I therefore renew my appeal that all the interested parties avoid an escalation of the conflict and keep alive the flame of dialogue and self-restrain in full respect of international law.”

Francis opened his remarks by praising the hope of young people, particularly as they take the lead in demanding greater attention to the threat of climate change.

Francis has made caring for the environment a pillar of his papacy. Vatican officials have praised the global youth movement sparked by Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, who met with Francis last year.

In his remarks, Francis lamented with “grave concern” that international leaders appeared deaf to the cries of the planet, the poor and the young who are demanding faster action to curb global warming. He cited the failure of leaders to approve new rules to reduce carbon emissions at a Madrid climate conference last month.

The U.N. conference outcome, he said, “raises serious concern about the will of the international community to confront with wisdom and effectiveness the phenomenon of global warming, which demands a collective response capable of placing the common good over particular interests.”

Francis spoke of his record seven foreign trips in 2019, highlighting in particular his call in Japan for a ban on not only the use, but the possession of nuclear weapons. Francis has said he plans to change official Catholic teaching to declare the use and possession of nuclear weapons as “immoral.”

“The time has come for political leaders to realize that a safer world comes about not by the deterrent possession of powerful means of mass destruction, but rather by the patient efforts of men and women of good will who devote themselves concretely, each in his or her own field, to building a world of peace, solidarity and mutual respect,” he said.

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This story corrects the spelling of Greta Thunberg's latest name.

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