Pope Francis would be prepared to talk to the extremists of Islamic State (Isil) if he thought it would help bring peace to Syria and Iraq, he said.
The Pope said "the door is always open" to peace initiatives, but conceded that it would be very hard to negotiate with Isil.
"I never say 'all is lost', never. Maybe there can't be a dialogue but you can never shut a door," he told journalists on board his plane as he returned yesterday from Strasbourg, where he had addressed the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.
"It is difficult, one could say almost impossible, but the door is always open," he said in response to a question about whether it would be possible to communicate with the militants.
There have been warnings the Pope may have made had himself a target of Isil after speaking out forcefully against the persecution of Christians and backing, albeit conditionally, American air strikes against the Islamist militia. In propaganda videos and messages online, Isil has repeatedly said that it wants to "conquer Rome", the cradle of Christianity, and to plant the black flag of its self-declared caliphate on top of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
In his speech to the European Parliament, the Pope said Christians and other minorities had been subjected to "barbaric acts of violence". They had been "evicted from their homes and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive, under the shameful and complicit silence of so many."
The 77-year-old Argentinean pontiff said that it was legitimate to try to stop an "unjust aggressor" such as Isil but warned of the dangers of countries over-reaching their powers or persecuting their own people. "There is another threat, that of state terrorism," he said on board the plane back to Rome. "Each state, for its own part, feels it has the right to massacre terrorists. But so many innocent people perish at the same time as the terrorists."
The Pope did not name any specific regimes but his comments could be interpreted as criticism of the Syrian government, accused of slaughtering thousands of its own citizens, or the United States, which has killed innocent people with its drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Vatican observers said he may also have had in mind Israel's actions against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. "We have to fight terrorism. But when you have to stop an unjust aggressor, it has to be done with international consensus. No country can, on its own, stop an unjust aggressor," he said. After a brief rest from his whistle-stop Strasbourg trip, the shortest in papal history, the Pope will on Friday fly to Turkey for a three-day visit to Ankara and Istanbul in which he is again expected to speak about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. (© Daily Telegraph, London)