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Pope Francis calls on Ukraine to ‘raise the white flag’

Pope Francis has told Ukraine one must give a little ground to gain peace.

Pope Francis has told Ukraine one must give a little ground to gain peace. Photo: AP

Pope Francis has offered to broker peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, saying Kyiv must find “the courage” to admit it can’t drive Moscow’s forces off its territory.

The Pope made his comments in an interview recorded last month with Swiss broadcaster RSI, well before Friday’s latest offer by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to host a summit between Ukraine and Russia to end the war.

Erdogan made the fresh offer after a meeting in Istanbul with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has said that while he wants peace he will not give up any territory.

The Ukrainian leader’s own peace plan calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from all of Ukraine and the full restoration of its state borders.

The Kremlin has ruled out engaging in peace talks if the terms are drafted by Kyiv.

Pope Francis says the war, which has now raged for more than two years, has killed tens of thousands with no end in sight unless there is a negotiated peace deal.

A spokesman for Zelenskiy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Pope’s remarks.

In the interview Pope Francis was asked for his position on a debate between those who say Ukraine should give up because it has not been able to dislodge Russian forces, and those who say doing so would legitimise actions by the strongest party.

The interviewer used the term “white flag” in the question.

‘The courage of the white flag’

“It is one interpretation, that is true,” Francis said, according to an advance transcript of the interview and a partial video made available to Reuters. It is due to be broadcast on March 20 as part of a new cultural program.

“But I think that the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates,” he said, adding that talks should take place with the help of international powers.

“The word ‘negotiate’ is a courageous word. When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, you have to have the courage to negotiate.”

It was believed to be the first time the Pope has used terms such as “white flag” or “defeated” in discussing the Ukraine war, although he has spoken in the past about the need for negotiations.

In a statement, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Pope had picked up on the term “white flag” spoken by the interviewer and used it “to indicate a stop to hostilities (and) a truce achieved with the courage of negotiations”.

Last year the 87-year-old Pope sent a peace envoy, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to Kyiv, Moscow and Washington to sound out leaders in those countries.

“One may feel shame,” Francis said about negotiating for peace, “but how many dead will it (the war) end up with? (One should) negotiate in time, find a country that can be a mediator,” the Pope said, mentioning Turkey among the countries that have offered to serve as peace-brokers.

“Do not be ashamed of negotiating before things get worse,” the Pontiff said. Asked if he was willing to mediate, the Pope said “I am here”.

In another part of the interview, speaking of the war between Israel and Hamas, Francis said: “Negotiating is never a surrender”.

-AAP

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