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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 15:29 GMT
Pope condemns war in Iraq
Pope John Paul II
The pope was speaking to diplomats from 175 countries
Pope John Paul II has expressed renewed opposition to the possibility of war in Iraq, saying the use of military force had to be the "very last option".

In a New Year address to Vatican diplomats, the Pope said war was "always a defeat for humanity", and called instead for more diplomacy and dialogue.

War cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option.

Pope John Paul II
"War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations," he said.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says The Vatican clearly does not consider that America's planned offensive to topple Saddam Hussein meets the conditions of a "just war" laid down by the Roman Catholic Church.

The 82-year-old pontiff appears to be signalling the start of a new diplomatic rift with the US - a repeat of the one which broke out over the Gulf War in 1991, analysts say.

Moral legitimacy

"War cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions," Pope John Paul said.

He spoke of the Iraqis as a people already sorely tried by 12 years of international embargoes - and he described Iraq as the land of the prophets, because it is believed to be the birthplace of the biblical prophet Abraham.

Iraq child in a children's hospital in Baghdad
Iraqis have endured 12 years of embargoes

Those behind a war in Iraq would have to consider "the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations," he said.

During the Gulf War, relations between the Vatican and the US were strained because the Pope refused to state unequivocally that the conflict was a "just" one.

The Church teaches that for a war to be "just", the use of military force should meet rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy.

It also says that all other means must first be exhausted, and that the type of force used must be proportionate to the wrong it tries to rectify.

Potential for change

The Pope also used Monday's address to speak of the troubles affecting the Middle East, Venezuela, Ivory Coast and other parts of Africa.

However, he also struck a note of optimism.

"Everything can change. It depends on each of us. Everyone can develop within himself his potential for faith, for honesty, for respect of others and for commitment to the service of others," he said.


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