The thaw when it comes in northern climes comes dramatically. We have all in the past been delighted by nature programmes on television at the moment in which the solid wall of ice suddenly cracks and turns in a few moments into free flowing waterfall. And it seems similar in the world of diplomacy. For over half a century the United States and Cuba have been in a state of near war; now, suddenly, diplomatic relations are restored, prisoners released, and all seems on the path to normality. Cuba and America are no longer locked into an immortal hate, a timeless feud.
Both will doubtless gain by this: America will no longer have an enemy so close to its own soil, with all the dangers that poses; and Cuba will, putting the old foe aside, perhaps concentrate on what really matters, namely, raising the living standards of its people. But there is a third major winner in the process, and that is the Pope and the Vatican’s diplomatic service.
The Vatican has long had the desire to see enemies talk to each other. It is for this reason, at funerals of Popes, when the world’s leaders gather, that the Vatican puts old enemies close together in the seating plan. In this way it has engineered handshakes between the Prince Charles and President Mugabe, and some human contact between the Israelis and the Iranians. But Cuba and America, a conflict that has endured for decades, was always going to be a hard nut to crack, if not quite in the same league as the Iranian and Israeli stand-off.
The change in relations seems sudden, but it is of course the fruit of long and careful negotiations behind closed doors, the details of which did not leak out, surprisingly. The Canadians were involved, but the Vatican seems to have been the chief facilitator, and this has drawn warm praise form, among others, the Guardian, which has not until now been noted for its pro-Roman line.
In bringing the two sides together the Pope has made good use of his international prestige and his personal popularity. But one should not forget that he had others to help him, in particular the Vatican’s diplomatic service, headed by the Secretary of State. The Vatican diplomatic service, which is of course the oldest in the world, deserves a pat on the back for this. Moreover, anyone who now doubts that it is worth Britain’s while to have diplomatic relations with the Vatican should perhaps ponder the good work done by the Vatican diplomats in this instance. They have ended a historic quarrel, and they have promoted world peace. It’s a good day for the Vatican, and a good day for humanity.
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