WASHINGTON - Former Presidents Bush and Clinton will accompany President Bush to the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the White House announced Tuesday. The delegation will also include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, will lead the five-member group representing the United States at the funeral on Friday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
It wasn't immediately clear why former President Carter was not going along as well. McClellan said the White House reached out to him but would not elaborate. A spokesman with his Carter Center in Atlanta, Jon Moore, also would not explain.
Former President Ford, who lives in California, is 91 and no longer travels extensively.
Clinton spokesman Jim Kennedy said the former president had been given clearance by his doctors to fly to Rome. Clinton had surgery a month ago in New York to deal with a rare complication from a heart bypass operation six months earlier. His doctors had originally told him he would need four to six weeks at home, but he traveled by train last week to Washington to collect an award for his work on AIDS.
Bush is leaving Washington for Rome on Wednesday, and was to have meetings with foreign leaders Thursday. The president planned to leave Italy immediately after the funeral to spend the weekend at his ranch in Texas.
Bush said Tuesday that his attendance at the services would "pay our country's respect to a great world leader."
"He shows that one man can make an enormous difference," Bush said during a Social Security speech in Parkersburg, W. Va. "I look forward to honoring the memory of Pope John Paul II."
Bush will be the first sitting president to attend a pope's funeral. The pontiff died on Saturday, ending a quarter-century as leader of the Catholic Church.
Bush met with the pope three times during his presidency. The pontiff was quick to tell Bush about his deep disagreement with the war in Iraq, the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops and Bush's support for the death penalty. During their final meeting last June, Bush presented the pope with the Medal of Freedom and the pope responded by reading a statement that said he had "grave concern" about events in Iraq.