VATICAN CITY, JUNE 20, 2003 ( In the wake of the Iraq war, the Holy See confirms the "fundamental role" of the United Nations in guaranteeing respect for international law.

In a letter to the U.N. secretary-general, sent on behalf of the Pope by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state stresses "the need for an international and independent Authority" capable of "leading the human family in peace towards the rule of law."

"The recent Iraqi crisis has drawn attention to the need for a greater commitment to the principles set forth in the United Nations Charter, in order to avoid unilateral actions which could lead to the weakening of international law and existing agreements," the cardinal says in the letter to Kofi Annan.

The letter, dated June 5 and published today by the Vatican press office, begins by referring to recent Security Council Resolution 1483 regarding the rebuilding of Iraq.

According to Cardinal Sodano, this agreement, which followed the divisions at the heart of the international community caused by the war, "can be considered the beginning of a reconfirmation of the validity of the mission of the United Nations Organization as stipulated by the Charter of 1945."

After revealing that he was writing the letter because John Paul II asked him to emphasize "the fundamental role of the United Nations Organization at the present time," Cardinal Sodano recalls the numerous papal pronouncements calling for "an international and independent Authority capable of serving not only as a mediator in potential conflicts but also as a guide for all humanity, leading the human family in peace towards the rule of law."

To support his position, the cardinal mentions Pope John XXIII's 1963 encyclical "Pacem in Terris," in which he "clearly stated that the moral order itself calls for the establishment of a universal public Authority."

Cardinal Sodano goes on to mention John Paul II's October 1995 address before the U.N. General Assembly, when he "expressed the hope that the United Nations Organization ... become a moral center where all the nations of the world feel at home and develop a shared awareness of being, as it were, a 'family of nations.'"

"The Holy See is confident that the United Nations Organization will be able to develop more efficient and concerted forms of cooperation which will enable world leaders to join in combating situations of injustice and oppression, leading to hostility between peoples," the letter states.

Lastly, Cardinal Sodano thanked Kofi Annan for his demonstrated commitment "to foster international peace, dialogue and cooperation."