VATICAN CITY, FEB. 18, 2003 <a href="">( John Paul II and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan agree it is still possible to find a just solution to the Iraqi crisis.

Annan was received in audience today by the Pope as night was falling in Rome. At the end of the meeting, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said that in the "cordial and profound half-hour conversation" between the Pope and the U.N. secretary-general the "critical situation" arising from Iraq was studied.

Both the Pope and Annan stressed the "essential role" of the United Nations and the fact that "just and effective solutions to the challenges of the moment can still be found by respecting international legality, of which the United Nations is guarantor," the spokesman said.

At the same time, they stressed the objective to "avoid subsequent grave sufferings to the people, already affected by long years of embargo," said Navarro-Valls' statement, released through the Holy See.

Earlier, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray lunched with the Pope and reported on his meeting with Saddam Hussein, with Iraqi authorities, and with representatives of the Catholic community in the country.

Holy See representatives also addressed with Annan other conflicts, in particular the Holy Land.

Before his papal audience, Annan said in Rome: "War is not inevitable and it is necessary to exert pressure to obtain a peaceful solution, but this does not mean that Iraq does not have to obey the obligations imposed by the U.N. Security Council."

On Saturday, John Paul II will receive British Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state.