Many nations today recognize the State of the Vatican City as an independent sovereign state under the temporal jurisdiction of the pope. The Vatican also has permanent observer status in the United Nations. Until the 1990s, the Vatican had uneven relations with the communist nations of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. With the dramatic political and social changes that took place within these countries during the 1990s, relations between the Roman Catholic Church and these governments have markedly improved. Relations with other communist or socialist countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, however, remain somewhat tense. The major principles behind the Vatican's foreign policy are neutrality and the demand for greater international cooperation.
In 2002, John Paul II took a step towards reconciling the Vatican with the Italian government when he became the first pope to address the Italian parliament since 1870, healing wounds between church and state in Italy. In 2002, John Paul II also reached out to the indigenous people of North and South America, canonizing the first indigenous American saint, Juan Diego, in Mexico City. The canonization was accompanied by a plea for the rights of indigenous people.
From 1870 to 1984, the United States had no formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Since 1984, the pope has visited the United States regularly. In March 2000, the pope made an historic trip to Israel where he visited Holocaust memorials and spoke of the Church's culpability in fostering anti-Semitism. During this trip, he also went to Bethlehem and reaffirmed the Holy See's support for an independent Palestinian homeland. The pope has made over 170 visits to 115 countries; in 1994 Time named him "Man of the Year" for his unprecedented efforts to take his message of peace and human dignity to citizens around the globe. In 2003, the pope vehemently opposed the military actions (undertaken by coalition forces from the United States and the United Kingdom) against Iraq, asking the world instead to pray for peace.