ROME – The White House on Thursday expressed fresh regrets over last month's shooting death of an Italian intelligence officer in Iraq by U.S. troops as President Bush and his two immediate predecessors met with Italian officials and mourned the death of Pope John Paul II (search).
Free live streaming video of the pope's funeral at 4 a.m. EDT on FOXNews.com.
Bush and former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush paid a courtesy call on Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and planned dinner with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. (search)
They were also meeting with a group of U.S. Catholic leaders here for Friday's funeral of the pontiff, including 11 American cardinals who will participate in electing a new pope.
Earlier, President Bush's father told reporters he regrets that he never had the opportunity to make a stronger case for the Gulf War in 1991 to the pope. Clinton said the pope would have a "mixed legacy" but was a great pope and had a knack for political stagecraft.
Relations between the United States and Italy were strained last month when U.S. troops in Iraq fired on a car rushing an Italian journalist to freedom, killing an Italian intelligence officer and wounding the reporter.
Berlusconi denounced the attack. Shortly thereafter, he announced plans to start to draw down his country's 3,000-strong contingent in Iraq in September, although he said the two events were not related.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush was prepared "to express our condolences" anew over the shooting at his meetings with Italian officials.
"We regret that the incident took place," McClellan said. "There is continuing to be a full investigation in cooperation with the Italian authorities."
While the subject did not come up at the courtesy call on Ciampi, Bush was prepared to offer new condolences in the dinner with Berlusconi, McClellan suggested.
The three most recent U.S. presidents knelt in silent tribute before John Paul's body in St. Peter's Basilica late Wednesday. Joining the tribute were the two other members of their delegation, first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The American delegation took its place in St. Peter's at a wooden railing on one side of John Paul's bier. Hundreds of mourners filed by on the other side. The line was briefly stopped on the side of the U.S. visitors.
Outside, thousands of people waited to get in — part of the several million mourners here to pay final tribute to the Polish-born pope.
Bush is the first U.S. president to attend a papal burial ceremony. Lyndon Johnson led the delegation to Pope John XXIII's funeral in 1963, when Johnson was vice president.
The Americans knelt for about five minutes, heads bowed, as choral music filled the huge structure.
Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One earlier Wednesday, the elder Bush told reporters the pope "was a man of peace, he was unforgettable."
Both former presidents recalled disputes they had with the pope: for Bush, the war in Iraq, and for Clinton, social issues such as abortion rights.
The pope sent Bush a cable opposing the invasion of Kuwait, the elder Bush said. He said he wished he had had time to discuss the war with the pope.
"Because clearly I thought it was" a just cause, Bush said.
Clinton said the pope had demonstrated support for NATO actions to end genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo.
"I think he favored defensive wars, if you will, or wars in defense of innocent people being slaughtered," Clinton said.
Clinton said he recognized that John Paul "may have had a mixed legacy," but he called him a man with a great feel for human dignity.
"There will be debates about him. But on balance, he was a man of God, he was a consistent person, he did what he thought was right. That's about all you can ask of anybody."
"I'd hate to run against him for mayor," Clinton said. "The man knows how to build a crowd."
Clinton said there had been "two great popes" in his lifetime, John Paul II and John XXIII.
The elder Bush and Clinton joined the president on Thursday when he received his classified daily intelligence briefing from the CIA.