Agence France-Presse on Mon, 26 Oct 1998 have said that the Vatican have asked Monday to take part in upcoming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the future of Jerusalem and called for a "special international status" for its holy places.

"The Holy See believes that it's important for its representative to sit at the negotiating table to make sure that they are fair and that no aspect of the problems will be forgotten," Vatican Foreign Minister Jean-Louis Tauran said.

Correction needed to Agence France Press

November 4, 1998

Dear Editor:

This morning's Washington edition carried a misleading story from Agence France Presse: "Israel Rules Out Vatican Role on Jerusalem." According to the story, Aharon Lopez, the Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See, rejected a supposed bid by the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, for the Holy See to have a role in final status negotiations over Jerusalem.

Archbishop Tauran has made no such a proposal. Indeed, the Holy See's position is the same as that articulated by Ambassador Lopez. A final status for Jerusalem must be negotiated "in direct talks between the two parties," namely the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

This story followed an earlier misinterpretation by Agence France Presse of Archbishop Tauran's talk to a meeting of presidents of episcopal conferences in Jerusalem, October 26. At a press conference the next day, Archbishop Tauran was at pains to say that he had requested no role such direct involvement by the Holy See in the negotiations. Unfortunately, the report published in your November 4 edition continues to circulate the erroneous interpretation of the first report.

The Holy See's position, as delineated by Archbishop Tauran, proposes that there ought to be a just and adequate territorial settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the matter of Jerusalem. Furthermore, because of its universal religious significance, the Holy See proposes that Jerusalem requires "a special internationally guaranteed statute."

This statute, according to Tauran's October 26 address, should

(i) preserve the religious and cultural heritage of the city,

(ii) assure the equality of rights and of treatment of members of the three (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) religious communities together with their freedom of spiritual, cultural, civic and economic activities,

and (iii) preserve the Holy Places and the rights of access to them for residents and pilgrims alike, including those from elsewhere in the Holy Land (i.e, the Palestinian Self-Rule Areas).

In the Holy See's view, moreover, unilateral or bi-lateral assurances for the implementation of such a statute are insufficient, and international guarantees are needed to give it further backing. Such guarantees are distinct, however, from the bi-lateral negotiations between Israel and athe Palestinians that would lead to the proposed Jerusalem statute.

Sincerely yours,

(Rev.) Drew Christiansen,S.J. Counselor United States Catholic Conference

The writer is former director of the United States Catholic Conference Office of International Justice and Peace, and continues to serve as advisor to the United States Catholic bishops on Mideast Affairs.