Cardinal Etchegaray Exhorts Saddam to Avoid War

Papal Envoy Spends Hour and a Half with Iraqi Leader

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, FEB. 16, 2003 ( John Paul II’s special envoy to Iraq said that the object of his meeting with Saddam Hussein was to ask him to do everything possible to avoid the war.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray met with the Iraqi leader at an undisclosed location for one and a half hours on Saturday.

In a brief statement at the apostolic nunciature here, the cardinal said that their conversation focused on «concrete questions that I cannot mention out of respect for the one who sent me and the one who receives me.»

An effort was made «to see if everything had been done to guarantee peace, re-establishing a climate of confidence that will allow Iraq to find its place in the international community,» the papal envoy said.

«Present at the heart of our meeting was the whole Iraqi people, proof of whose aspiration for a just and lasting peace I had from Baghdad to Massoul,» he said.

He also noted the Iraqi people’s «many years of sufferings, for which the Pope and the universal Church have always shown themselves to be in solidarity.»

The cardinal statement ended with an exhortation on behalf of the Pope «to the conscience of all those who, in these decisive days, can influence the future of peace.»

«Because, in the end, it is conscience that will have the last word, stronger than all strategies, all ideologies and also all religions,» the cardinal affirmed.

The papal envoy, who arrived in Baghdad last Tuesday, was not sent to offer alternative peace plans or to be a mediator.

He emphasized the «spiritual» character of his mission, while Vatican sources stressed his role as papal messenger of peace, to appeal to Iraq to comply with international law.

According to Italian public television, John Paul II is due to receive U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday in the Vatican.

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