VATICAN, Feb 19, 03 ( -- Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, believes that military action against Iraq can still be avoided through of diplomatic means.

"There are still many options to be tried before we come to the use of arms," the cardinal said. His statement came shortly after a meeting with UN secretary general Kofi Anan on Tuesday evening.

"We found ourselves in agreement on the fact that we must achieve the disarmament of Iraq," Cardinal Sodano told reporters of his meeting with the top UN official. And he said that he could still see means of achieving that goal without the use of military force. "War is not inevitable," the cardinal insisted.

Cardinal Sodano also observed that other European leaders shared his belief that diplomatic efforts could defuse the crisis. He said that he is "optimistic" after conferring with several world leaders. The cardinal continued: "There is some optimism now, and we hope that we are seeing some light."

The cardinal's statement came just one day after a meeting of European government leaders, held in Brussels, to discuss the crisis in Iraq. And Cardinal Sodano spoke to reporters at a reception held at the Italian government embassy, where he had the opportunity to speak with Italian President Carlo Ciampi and prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The Vatican's heavy involvement in diplomatic efforts to prevent warfare continues, with British prime minister Tony Blair due to arrive in Rome on February 22. Some Vatican officials suspect that the French government will soon send a special envoy to meet with the Pope as well. To date, observers note, the United States has not sent any envoy to speak with the Pontiff about the crisis.