Pope issues urgent appeal: there is still room for peace

 Pope John Paul II issued one of his strongest appeals ever against war yesterday. Speaking to pilgrims from a window of his apartment overlooking St Peter's Square, hours before the Bush/Blair/Aznar summit in the Azores, he implored Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to avoid giving the West reason to attack. He also warned the UN Security Council that military intervention could trigger an explosion of extremism. He said: "The next days will be decisive for the outcome of the Iraq crisis. I pray 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." Pope John Paul said he wanted to remind UN member countries, and especially those on 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 UN 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 region ... I say to all: There is still time to negotiate. There is still room for peace." He said: "It is never too late to understand one another and to continue to deal with each other." Abandoning his prepared remarks, the Pope 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. "That is why I 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 Paul VI said in his first visit to the United Nations.'' "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."

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