ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE -- Pope Francis on Tuesday acknowledged receiving a request from embattled Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro to help relaunch talks to end the country's political crisis but ruled out any involvement unless opposition leader Juan Guaido requests it.
Francis acknowledged that he hadn't read Maduro's letter, which he said arrived at the Vatican via diplomatic pouch. He added, "We'll see what can be done."
But speaking to reporters en route home from the United Arab Emirates, he recalled that a previous Vatican diplomatic effort to facilitate talks between Maduro and the opposition "went up in smoke." And he insisted on the basic diplomatic requirement that two sides to any conflict must jointly request external facilitation or mediation of negotiations.
"I'll have a look at the letter, I'll see what can be done. But the preliminary conditions are that both sides ask for it," he told reporters, without citing Guaido by name.
However, Venezuela's opposition, led by Guaido, has made it clear that any offers of dialogue must start with negotiating the terms of Maduro's exit.
Dozens of countries, including the United States and most of the European Union, have recognized congressional leader Guaido as Venezuela's interim president, arguing that Maduro's re-election was invalid. But Maduro, too, has widespread international backing and holds practical control over the crisis-wracked nation's institutions, including the military.
Maduro said in a statement that he sent the letter to Pope Frances, explaining that he's deeply Christian in both prayer and action.
"I ask the pope to put forth his best effort, his willingness to help us move down a path of dialogue and hopefully a positive response," Maduro said.
Francis had been asked about whether he might follow in the footsteps of St. John Paul II, who helped mediate a border crisis between Argentina and Chile over the Beagle Channel that almost brought the two countries to war in 1978.
The Argentine pope, who was a young Jesuit provincial at the time, called John Paul's intervention "courageous" because it "avoided a war that was on the horizon."
But he noted both Chile and Argentina requested the Holy See's intervention, and that besides, there are plenty of "small steps" that can be taken diplomatically before arriving at actual mediation of a conflict.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused European Union countries of "vileness" and acting against democracy a day after more than a dozen of them endorsed Guaido as the country's interim president.
In an address to his ruling party's legislators on Tuesday, Erdogan said the EU countries had "delivered the presidency of a nation to someone who hasn't even been through an election."
Sixteen European countries recognized Guaido on Monday. Turkey is among at least nine nations — including Russia and China —that have declared support for embattled President Nicolas Madura.
"Where's democracy? What's this vileness?" Erdogan said of the EU countries. "On one hand you say 'democracy, democracy, democracy'... and then you're going to topple a government with force and cheating?"