Iraq President Won't Sign Hussein Foreign Minister Aziz's Death Sentence

Iraq's president said Wednesday that he would not sign an execution order for the foreign minister in Saddam Hussein's government, who was sentenced to death last month.

""I will not sign Tariq Aziz's death sentence,"" Jalal Talabani told France 24 television during a visit to Paris for the Socialist International meeting. ""I will sign no death sentence at all, because as a social democrat, I'm against the death penalty.""

The statement by Talabani, who was reelected to the presidency last week, followed calls by the Vatican and Russia to halt the execution on humanitarian grounds. Aziz, 74, is in poor health. He was the most senior Christian official in Hussein's predominantly Sunni government, as well as its international face.

Talabani, a Kurd, told the French news channel that he ""sympathized"" with Aziz ""because he is an Iraqi Christian.""

Moreover,"" Talabani said, ""he is an old man who is over 70.""

The president's stand did not come as a surprise and may not prevent the controversial execution. During Talabani's earlier tenure as president, he never signed off on a death sentence, but Iraqi authorities nevertheless hanged several senior members of the former government, including Hussein. "