VATICAN, Feb 6, 03 ( -- Archbishop Renato Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has said that US Secretary of State Colin Powell was "unconvincing" in his argument to justify military action against Iraq.

After the American leader's presentation to the United Nations, Archbishop Martino told a Vatican Radio audience that the evidence supplied by the US was "less convincing that what was presented on October 25, 1962, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis."

The archbishop said that UN resolution 1441 remains "the most effective means of avoiding war." That resolution, he recalled, "gives inspectors the authority to destroy or disable any weapons that they find." He added that the resolution calls upon all UN members to furnish information to the inspectors, so he questioned why the US had not supplied those inspectors with the evidence that Powell presented to the UN.

The Vatican newspaper reported that Vatican officials at the Holy See were not swayed by Powell's presentation. The front-page story in L'Osservatore Romano reported that the American arguments "did not completely convince the members of the UN Security Council." The paper quoted senior Vatican officials, speaking anonymously, as saying that the US argument was based on "propaganda" rather than hard evidence.

Archbishop Martino told Vatican Radio that a visit to Rome by Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz, scheduled for February 14, "could be a step" toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis. He said that "the Pope will do everything possible" to avoid open warfare.