Pope Issues Strong Appeal Against War
Sunday March 16, 2003 1:30 PM
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope John Paul II, in one of his strongest appeals yet against war in Iraq, implored Saddam Hussein Sunday to avoid giving the West reason to attack and warned the U.N. Security Council that military intervention could trigger an explosion of extremism.
John Paul made his plea a few hours before a summit in the Azores among President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
The pontiff's remarks, delivered from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square, reflected the urgency of the next few days, as the White House presses for a decision on Iraq, which is under U.N. orders to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.
``The next days will be decisive for the outcome of the Iraq crisis,'' said the pope, who prayed that ``leaders on all sides be inspired with courage and long-range vision.''
``Certainly, the leaders of Baghdad have the urgent duty to collaborate fully with the international community, to eliminate any reason for an armed intervention,'' the pope said.
``To them I direct my pressing appeal: the fate of your fellow citizens always has priority!''
John Paul also said he wanted to remind U.N. member countries, and especially those which make up the Security Council, that ``the use of force represents the last resort, after having exhausted every other peaceful solution, according to the well-known principles of the U.N. Charter.''
``That is why, in the face of the tremendous consequences that an international military operation would have for the population of Iraq and for the equilibrium of the entire Middle East reason, already so tried, as well as for the extremism which could stem from it, I say to all: There is still time to negotiate; there is still room for peace.''
The pontiff continued: ``It is never too late to understand one another and to continue to deal with each other.''
Abandoning his prepared remarks, the pontiff, who was in his 20s and studying clandestinely for the priesthood during the German occupation of his native Poland during World War II, added a personal reflection.
``I must say that I belong to the generation which remembers well, which lived through World War II, and which, thanks to God, survived World War II,'' John Paul said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis.
``That is why I also have the duty to remind all these young people, those younger (than me), who didn't have that experience, to remember, and to say, 'never again war' as (Pope) Paul VI said in his first visit to the United Nations.''
The slogan ``no war, not if and not ever,'' has galvanized protesters throughout Italy, including hundreds of thousands who joined peace marches in the last few weeks.
``We must do all we can. We know well that it's not possible to ask for peace at any cost, but we all know how great, how very great, is the responsibility for this decision'' on whether to wage war, the pontiff added in his off-the-cuff remarks.
The Vatican's anti-war campaign has seen both impassioned pleas by the pope as well as top-level diplomacy. John Paul dispatched one cardinal to meet with Saddam Hussein and another with Bush in the last few weeks, and he himself met privately with Iraq's deputy premier.
``To reflect on one's duties, to be engaged in negotiations doesn't mean to be humiliated but to work responsibility for peace,'' the pontiff said.
John Paul has said war against Iraq would be a ``defeat for humanity'' and has expressed worry that the Muslim world will see any Western-led attack as a Christian crusade against Islam.
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