Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Andrew Burton—Getty Images
By Philip Elliott
May 13, 2015

During a Q&A on foreign policy Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio took a shot at an unlikely public figure: Pope Francis.

After delivering a meaty speech outlining his hawkish foreign policy priorities at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Florida Republican criticized the 78-year-old pontiff’s take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the U.S.-Cuban standoff.

“His desire is peace and prosperity, he wants everyone to be better off. He’s not a political figure,” Rubio said. “Anything he can do to open up more opportunities for them, he’s going to pursue.”

Rubio contrasted that with his own approach.

“My interest as an elected official is the national security of the United States and embedded in that is the belief that it is not good for our people—or the people of Cuba—for an anti-American dictatorship 90 miles from our shores,” he said.

And asked about the Vatican’s support for separate states of Israel and Palestine, Rubio said the United States must stand with its ally Israel.

“It is the only free enterprise, democratic, pro-American country in the Middle East. If we had more free enterprise, pro-American democracies in the Middle East, my speech would be a lot shorter,” Rubio said.

Asked about his earlier support for separate states of Israel and Palestine, Rubio was dour: “I don’t think the conditions exist for that today.”

It won’t be the last time Pope Francis plays a role in U.S. presidential politics. He’s set to visit Philadelphia in September of 2015, as the presidential race gets even more heated.

Read more: The Possible Presidential Candidate Who Agrees the Most with Pope Francis

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