VATICAN CITY (AP) - A top cardinal Wednesday said the Vatican is hoping to convince the United States that a war against Iraq isn't worth risking decades of hostility with the Islamic world.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who as Vatican secretary of State is one of Pope John Paul II's trusted aides, told Italian reporters that the Holy See's diplomats were trying to prompt reflection on the consequences of such a war. "It doesn't count so much to pause and say if it's a just or unjust war," Sodano said at a reception. "Perhaps it's more useful to reflect on whether it's worth while to have this war."

Earlier this month, the pope issued his strongest criticism yet of a possible war with Iraq, saying that military force can only be used as "the very last option"--and then only under certain conditions.

Sodano said the Vatican diplomats were asking: "Is worth irritating a billion of Islamics? We want to say to America: 'Is it worth it to you? Won't you have, afterwards, decades of hostility in the Islamic world?"'

Vatican officials have been saying that a "preventive war" against Baghdad would have no moral or legal justification, and would only create antagonisms between Christians and Muslims.

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