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Pope turns to veteran diplomats after slip-ups

VATICAN CITY -- After a season of apparent policy slip-ups, Pope Benedict XVI is shuffling top advisers and bringing in veteran diplomats closely identified with Vatican policy in Iraq and the Middle East.

Yesterday, Benedict restored an office that specializes in relations with Muslims, a year after he was criticized for disbanding it.

He appointed French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican's foreign affairs chief from 1990 to 2003, as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, raising the office's profile. Tauran was one of the strongest Vatican opponents of US plans to invade Iraq, saying a unilateral military strike would be a "crime against peace" with no justification on grounds of self-defense.

Two weeks ago, the pope named Archbishop Fernando Filoni, an Italian prelate who served as Vatican envoy in Iraq from 2001-2006, to the key post of undersecretary of state.

Church relations with Muslims were strained after a speech by Benedict in September that linked Islam to violence. Benedict later said he regretted that Muslims were offended by his remarks.

When Benedict was elected, some questioned his pastoral preparation after two decades in a Vatican office. Few had doubts about his intellectual acumen, theological precision, and foreign language skills, but he had no diplomatic experience.

Though Benedict continues to draw thousands to his public appearances two years into his papacy, he has made some apparent mistakes on policy issues that he or Vatican officials have had to fix.

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