Associated Press

September 29, 1994

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Israel's first envoy to the Vatican briefed Pope John Paul II about Middle East peace prospects, and the pontiff urged international guarantees for all religious believers to have permanent access to Jerusalem.

Ambassador Shmuel Hadas spoke with the pope on Thursday after presenting his credentials, a ceremony formally completing the historic establishment of ties between the Holy See and the Jewish state.

Hadas renewed an invitation to the pope to visit Jerusalem, a pilgrimage that would be his first visit to the Holy Land. But the pontiff, plagued by health problems, gave no indication if or when he might go.

Such a visit would help "strengthen the foundations of that peace which we are trying to build brick after brick," the Argentine-born Hadas said in his speech to the pope.

Concern about the progress of his recovery from hip replacement surgery in April caused the Vatican to postpone a papal visit to the United States, originally scheduled for next month. The pope's health has been the subject of intense public scrutiny.

The Vatican's ambassador to Israel, Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, cited security concerns.

The establishment of diplomatic relations on Dec. 30 capped the pontiff's efforts to overcome centuries marked by mistrust and hostility and should further the Vatican's desire for a role in Middle East peace developments.

Among its concerns is who will control the holy sites in Jerusalem and look after Palestinian Catholics.

Although both the pope and the ambassador were profuse in praise for each other's side, there are still thorny issues.

Israel has asked the Vatican to clarify why it honored former Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who concealed his service in the German army in World War II, with a Vatican award in July.