VATICAN, Feb 3, 03 ( -- An American-born cardinal has joined the chorus of Vatican officials speaking out against US plans for military action against Iraq.

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said that international leaders are motivated primarily by fear as they devise policies to cope with an international crisis. He contrasted this fear with the hope that Christians should carry through their lives.

The American cardinal said that the US case for military action "rests on the alleged imminent threat of mass destruction by the Iraqi government of urban centers in American and elsewhere." He argued: "Thus far, the case has not been convincing to many citizens in most countries."

However, Cardinal Stafford suggested that even convincing evidence of Iraq's hostile intentions would not be enough to justify a military strike. He argued that under the terms of just-war teaching, "legitimate public authority cannot decide for war unless the nation or community of nations has undergone prior damages from an aggressive or is actually under a very imminent threat." He did not respond to the argument, frequently raised by American officials, that the enormous threats posed my weapons of mass destruction could justify a pre-emptive strike.

In a statement heavily laced with literary reference-- alluding to Virgil, Kafka, Camus, and Keats-- Cardinal Stafford betrayed some confusion about the actual lines of American policy. He claimed, for example, that "the USA has recently threatened to use nuclear weapons against Iraq." In fact the White House said that the US reserved the right to use nuclear weapons in response to an Iraqi attack that employed weapons of mass destruction; this policy of nuclear deterrence has been a standing element of American defense strategy for over 50 years.

Cardinal Stafford did concede that it is "inexplicable" that Saddam Hussein has failed to condemn the terrorist attack on the US of September 11, 2001.