Pope Defends His Myanmar Diplomacy: ‘I Did Not Negotiate With the Truth’

“I am very, very satisfied with the meetings,” he said.

In his nearly hourlong remarks, the pope sought to explain his approach to effective diplomacy (“one half step back, one step forward”) and strategic communications (“the most important thing is that the message gets across”) and even offered his geopolitical analysis, explaining that someone had told him that the area of Myanmar where the Rohingya lived was “rich in precious stones” and that outside interests perhaps wanted it emptied for mining. “But I don’t know if it’s true,” he said.

He called the meeting with the Rohingya in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a “condition of the trip,” and opened up about the emotions he experienced visiting with 16 survivors of the persecution, to whom he vowed: “We won’t close our hearts or look away. The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.”

Aboard the plane, the pope flashed a defensive streak about his avoidance of using the politically contentious word during his days in Myanmar.

“If I had said that word in the official speeches, it would have been a door slammed in the face,” he said, using a metaphor he turned to several times, and which he said evoked for him the image of how an angry teenager vents frustration.

“It’s true I didn’t have the pleasure of slamming the door in their face publicly with a denunciation,” the pope said. “But I had the satisfaction of dialogue, and letting the other side dialogue, and in this way the message arrived.”

He argued that his caution granted him access to private meetings, where he could be more frank.

Of his meeting with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who has led a campaign of mass murder, rape and arson against the Rohingya, the pope said that “I did not negotiate with the truth” during the conversation and that he made the general understand that the horrors of the past were no longer viable.

The general had demanded to meet with Pope Francis before the pontiff saw Myanmar’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose reputation has suffered for her failure to forcefully condemn the killings. (The pope suggested she be cut some slack, saying, “In Myanmar, it’s difficult to evaluate a criticism without asking, ‘Is it possible to have done this?’”)

When a reporter asked the pope if he worried he had been used as a political pawn by the general to show the country who was boss, the pope said, “The intention of that I do…

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