NEW YORK – Italian Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, Pope Francis’s personal envoy for the Ukraine-Russia war, will meet with President Joe Biden on July 18 as part of his current trip to Washington to promote peace and discuss solutions to the conflict, the White House has announced.
“President Biden and Cardinal Zuppi will discuss the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “They will also discuss efforts by the United States and Holy See to provide humanitarian aid to those affected, and the Papal See’s focus on repatriating Ukrainian children forcibly deported by Russian officials.”
The meeting comes during Zuppi’s July 17-19 trip to Washington that he’s taken on Pope Francis’s behalf, which the Vatican has said “takes place in the context of mission aimed at promoting peace in Ukraine and it aims to exchange ideas and view on the current tragic situation and to support humanitarian initiatives to alleviate the suffering of the most impacted and most fragile people, especially children.”
The meeting comes at a time of disagreement between the pontiff and Biden over the arming of Ukraine, particularly as it pertains to the president’s recent controversial decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine to bolster its defense against Russian soldiers and weaponry.
Cluster munitions are weapons that scatter smaller sized munitions over a large area with the expectation that the bomblets will explode upon hitting the ground. But the weapon’s high rate of failure is historically a concern as late detonations – sometimes years later – can be devastating for civilians.
Biden has defended the move in an interview, saying that “Ukrainians are running out of ammunition.”
Pope Francis, meanwhile, has called on all countries to commit to the Convention on Cluster Munitions banning their use, recognizing the weapon’s risk to civilian populations. Since 2008, over 100 countries, including the Holy See, have signed the Convention. The United States and Russia, however, have not yet signed the agreement. The U.S. bishops have called on the government to do so, as well.
Zuppi’s current visit to Washington follows brief visits to both Kyiv and Moscow last month.
Zuppi traveled to Kyiv June 5-6, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other top government officials, and a subsequent visit to Moscow from June 28-29, where he met with Russian foreign ministry officials, as well as Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, head of the Moscow patriarchate.
One precedent for Zuppi’s encounter with Biden dates to 2003, when Pope John Paul II dispatched special envoys to both Baghdad and Washington in an effort to head off the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Italian Cardinal Pio Laghi met President George W. Bush in the White House on March 5, 2003, but failed to persuade Bush to call off the military operation.