At both Thursday’s and Friday’s briefings there was more than a little jocularity in the way Nuland handled Lee’s questions, and there was some laughter among the reporters who witnessed the exchanges. But Nuland’s ultimate answer that the U.S. would take “very seriously” a request to monitor the papal elections was one she did in fact research and did not need to give.
In fact, immediately before substantively responding on Friday to Lee’s second-day questions about the papal election, Nuland summarily declined to respond to a reporter who asked her about comments made by a former Japanese prime minister about trials held after World War II.
At Thursday’s State Department briefing, reporter Lee had asked Nuland: “Does the United States regard the election of the Pope to--that election to have met international standards for the election of a world leader? He is, after all, a head of state, and a head of government. … You routinely criticize countries or governments for having elections where there is not universal suffrage, where there is not any possibility of appealing the results, where there is not--where there were no monitors, for example. I’m wondering if this meets the standard for a free and fair election in your mind?"
Nuland responded: “Well, I think the world has watched this conclave go forward as it’s gone forward in history down the centuries.”
Lee said: “It’s probably the least transparent election. I mean, it’s more opaque than an election in North Korea or Iraq under Saddam Hussein.”
“But it is, nonetheless, an election with designated balloting and multiple rounds of balloting,” said Nuland, who then starting joking with the reporter about whether he personally wanted to be named a monitor to the next papal election.
“Yeah. I’d love that,” said Lee.
Lee made his own joke. “I hope that the Holy See appreciates that I’m just asking because I am a devil’s advocate.”
“I think you secretly aspire to some red shoes, maybe,” said Nuland.
But Lee restated his question: “You think the election of the Pope was okay? It meets your--the fairness, free and fairness standard?”
“I don’t think that we have any reason to question the process,” said Nuland.
“What does the U.S. think about theocracies?” asked Lee. “No, I’m curious. … I mean, and with all due respect, I’m not accusing the Vatican of doing anything improper. But you seem to take issue with theocracies in places like Iran, and yet you celebrate the theocracy in the Vatican.”
“Matt, he is the head of the church,” said Nuland.
But that did not end the issue—either for reporter Lee or for the State Department. At Friday’s briefing, it came up again, and Nuland now had a more specific answer.
“Do you regard it as a free and fair exercise in electing a leader of a country?” Lee asked Nuland again on Friday about the papal election.
“We did a little bit more digging on this,” said Nuland. “We consider Vatican City a sovereign juridical state. As some of you know--I think Matt knows--that sovereign juridical state has about 600 resident citizens. I would simply note that in the context of the election for the pope, they were electing the head of a religion. He’s also the head of this sovereign juridical state.
“It’s interesting to us that since this is a European state, we have never had a request for ODIHR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] monitoring of the election, ODIHR being the election-monitoring entity in the European space,” said Nuland. “So, obviously, were that to come forward, we would take it very seriously.”
“So, wait, who requests that?” asked Lee.
“It can be requested by citizens,” said Nuland. “It can be requested by parliament. It can be requested by the opposition--as it was in the case of Belarus."
“So, if such a request was made, would the Vatican, would have to open up its voting process for that kind of state?” asked Lee.
“If such a request were made for ODIHR monitoring of the voting, then the Vatican would have to consider whether it would open itself to ODIHR monitors,” said Nuland.
She then joked that the State Department could look into the possibility of making Lee himself a monitor under such a circumstance.
“If you wanted to be a monitor, we could see if we could arrange it, Matt,” said Nuland.
“That would be great,” said Lee. “I would love to spend a week or two in Rome.”
He eventually asked: “Is it then correct that the U.S. does not take a position on whether the election of the Pope was free and fair and transparent? … Without universal suffrage, without—“
“As I said yesterday, we don’t have any reason to question the process,” said Nuland.
The ODIHR is part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Fifty-seven states belong to the OSCE, including the Holy See and the United States. The ODIHR, says its website, promotes “democratic election processes through the in-depth observation of elections and conducts election assistance projects that enhance meaningful participatory democracy.”
“The Office’s democratization work,” says its annual report, “is aimed, therefore, at assisting participating States in meeting their OSCE commitments in areas such as democratic governance and lawmaking, the development of pluralistic party systems and political party regulation, enhancing the rule of law, strengthening parliaments, ensuring freedom of movement and migrant integration, and promoting gender equality and women’s political participation.”