February 20, 2003

VATICAN CITY (RNS)--The Vatican has called disarming Iraq a "just and urgent cause" but said it must be done through the process of weapons inspection and the building of an international consensus to block a U.S. attack on Baghdad.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's new permanent observer at the United Nations, made the most detailed statement to date on the Vatican's Iraq policy in an address to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. The Vatican Press Office issued his statement on Thursday.

John Paul and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who conferred at the Vatican on Tuesday, agreed on the "essential role" of the United Nations to defuse the crisis.

"The Holy See realizes that the international community is rightly worried and is addressing a just and urgent cause: the disarmament of arsenals of mass destruction, a threat surfacing not just in a single region, but unfortunately in other parts of our world," Migliore said. But, urging the international community to "draw strength from the wealth of peaceful tools proved by the international law," he said war would not be a "just" tool to use against Iraq.

"To the grave consequences for a civilian population that has already been tested long enough are added the dark prospects of tensions and conflicts between peoples and cultures and the deprecated reintroduction of war as a way to resolve untenable situations," the prelate said.

The Vatican representative called on Security Council members to line up behind the weapons inspection process instead, presenting a united front against the U.S. push for armed intervention. He said "the vast majority of the international community" has called for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis, and "that call should not be ignored."

"The Holy See is convinced that even though the process of inspections appears somewhat slow, it still remains an effective path that could lead to the building of a consensus, which, if widely shared by nations, would make it almost impossible for any government to act otherwise without risking international isolation," Migliore said.

"The Holy See is therefore of the view that it is also the proper path that would lead to an agreed and honorable resolution to the problem, which, in turn, could provide the basis for a real and lasting peace," he said. Migliore said the message papal envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray delivered to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad last Saturday stressed "the need for concrete commitments in faith to adherence to the relevant resolutions of the United Nations."

"Moreover," the prelate said, "in view of the devastating aftermath of a possible military intervention, the special envoy of the pope made an appeal to the conscience of all those who have a role to play in determining the future of the crisis in these coming decisive days."

The pope conveyed a "similar message" to Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz at a Vatican audience last week, he said.

"The Holy See encourages the parties concerned to keep the dialogue open that could bring about solutions in preventing a possible war and urges the international community to assume its responsibility in dealing with any failings by Iraq," Migliore said.

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