By John Thavis Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) -- A top Vatican official called on the international community to do "everything possible" to avert a new war in Iraq and said the United States had no right to make an attack on its own.
Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican's equivalent of a foreign minister, said Iraq should live up to its U.N. obligations on disarmament, but he said the results of current U.N. inspections in Iraq should be studied before any war plans are made.
The archbishop made the comments in an interview published Dec. 23 by the Rome newspaper La Repubblica. In unusually strong language, he reiterated several points made by Vatican officials in recent weeks as the United States made logistical preparations for a threatened attack on Iraq.
"It is necessary to do everything possible so that this much-discussed attack does not take place," Archbishop Tauran said.
"The use of weapons is not a given, and moreover a preventative war is not foreseen by the U.N. charter," he said.
"It is important for Iraqi leaders to regulate their political actions according to the code of conduct that is imposed by Iraq's membership in the United Nations," he said. But no military decisions should be made outside U.N. authority, he said.
"A single member of the international community cannot decide: 'I'm doing this and you others can either help me or stay home.' If that were the case, the entire system of international rules would collapse. We'd risk the jungle," he said.
Archbishop Tauran said that two months ago, in talks with U.S. representatives, he emphasized it was important to keep dialogue open and that "it should be the international community that assumes the responsibility of dealing with any eventual failings by Iraq."
He said he was disturbed by the fact that judgments on Iraq are being made before U.N. inspectors have finished their work and before they have completed studying the lengthy Iraqi dossier on its weapons programs.
"It would be better to remain silent and await the final results of the investigation before making judgments," he said.
Archbishop Tauran said he was convinced war in Iraq would be a "disaster," and he said many other diplomats in Europe and elsewhere share that point of view. He cited one Arab minister who said an attack on Iraq would "open the gates of hell."
"We need to think about the consequences for the civilian population and about the repercussions in the Islamic world. It could provoke a type of anti-Christian, anti-Western crusade," he said.
As for the possibility of the United States using nuclear weapons in Iraq to counter the threat of other weapons of mass destruction, the archbishop said: "I would rather not give echo to this hypothesis, because it seems so monstrous to me."
Archbishop Tauran said he was well aware that fighting terrorism was on the minds of many countries these days. He said the best strategy for countering terrorism was to rediscover the "sense of sacredness" of human life and human dignity and remove some of the biggest causes of terrorism -- including unresolved conflicts and social tensions around the globe.
He called the Israeli-Palestinian war "the mother of all conflicts." He described it as a crescendo of terrorism on one side and punitive military forays on the other.
Although many Israeli officials have denounced Yasser Arafat for allegedly tolerating terrorism by Palestinian groups, Archbishop Tauran said the Vatican would consider Arafat a legitimate leader as long as Palestinians considered him their representative.
The archbishop said he was concerned that some people are now rejecting the idea of a Palestinian state as part of the negotiating framework.
"The peace process -- which is practically dead -- had as its objective the coexistence of a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, as foreseen by the 1948 (U.N.) resolution," he said.
"If this is not the objective, what use is the peace process?" he said.
Israel's new foreign minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, strongly opposes the creation of a separate Palestinian state. Netanyahu visited Rome for talks with Italian officials in mid-December, but did not make a stop at the Vatican.
12/23/2002 10:33 AM ET
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