VATICAN OFFICIAL CHALLENGES US, IRAQ

VATICAN, Feb 28, 03 (CWNews.com) -- During his Thursday briefing for the Vatican diplomatic corps, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran had strong messages for two ambassadors who attended the session: the envoys from Iraq and the United States.

During his 30-minute presentation, the Vatican's chief foreign-policy official explained the position of the Holy See regarding the crisis in Iraq. The archbishop-- who had convened the meeting in response to a request from the diplomatic corps-- read a prepared statement in French and English. He did not take questions.

Among the key points that Archbishop Tauran stressed was a demand for Iraq to comply with UN disarmament requirements. He also insisted that Iraq must cooperate fully with UN inspectors. The Vatican representative thus clearly indicated dissatisfaction with the conduct of the Iraqi regime.

(The Holy See has frequently sided with Iraq in condemning international sanctions on the country. And the Vatican was one of the few countries that maintained diplomatic relations with Baghdad through and after the Gulf War.)

But Archbishop Tauran also had strong words for US officials. He said that a "preventive" or "pre-emptive" military strike on Iraq would be both "inadmissible" and "illegal." He added that, in the view of the Vatican, no military action could be justified without the approval of the UN.

The majority of the diplomats at the Holy See attended the archbishop's briefing, arriving at the Vatican late in the afternoon for the 6:30 PM session, which took place in the St. Martha House on the Vatican grounds. About 100 ambassadors-- of the 174 accredited, not all of whom remain in Rome on a full-time basis-- were on hand.

Prior to that evening meeting, the US ambassador, Jim Nicholson, had met privately with Archbishop Renato Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Archbishop Martino also held a separate session with a small group of envoys from European countries.