WASHINGTON, Mar 6, 03 ( -- After a private meeting with US President George W. Bush, Cardinal Pio Laghi reiterated the Vatican's position that military action against Iraq should be undertaken only with the approval of the United Nations.

Cardinal Laghi, who delivered a personal message from the Pope to the American leader, explained the position of the Holy See to reporters at a Washington press conference following his visit to the White House. The cardinal said that he was not "in a position to discuss the substance of our conversation, nor am I able to release the text of the personal letter of the Holy Father to the President."

However, Cardinal Laghi did stress two points: "First, the Iraqi government is obliged to fulfill completely and fully its international obligations regarding human rights and disarmament under the UN resolutions with respect for international norms. Second, these obligations and their fulfillment must continue to be pursued within the framework of the United Nations."

The cardinal said that a decision to use military force "can only be taken within the framework of the United Nations." And he said that UN leaders, in weighing such a decision, should consider the inevitable suffering that would be borne by Iraqi civilians, as well as the likely consequences of a war: "a further in the region and a new gulf between Islam and Christianity.

After his talk with President Bush, Cardinal Laghi also met privately with Secretary of State Colin Powell. There have been reports that the 80-year-old prelate-- who served as apostolic nuncio to the US during the 1980s-- would visit UN headquarters in New York before his return trip to Rome.


VATICAN, Mar 6, 03 ( -- Renaud Muselier, the second-ranking official in the French foreign ministry, visited the Vatican on Thursday for talks with his counterpart there, Msgr. Pietro Parolin.

Muselier was the latest in a series of high-ranking officials from around the world to speak with Vatican officials regarding the crisis in Iraq. After a 45-minute discussion at the Secretariat of State, the French officials reported that the Vatican and France speak "with a single voice" in their approach to the crisis. He explained that both are opposed to any military action that is undertaken without the support of the United Nations.

Interviewed after the meeting by the Roman news agency I Media, Muselier said that Msgr. Parolin had been keenly interested in his report on a recent meeting among the foreign ministers of France, Russia, and Germany. The Vatican official was also anxious to discuss the likely outcome of a vote in the UN security council on a US-backed resolution authorizing military action.

The French diplomat also reported that he shared the Vatican's fears that a war against Iraq would aggravate tensions between the West and the world of Islam. "It is that point of discord that we have emphasized-- and that was already brought up recently by President Chirac," Muselier observed. He said that a war in Iraq could have serious repercussions "for the Middle East, for Israel and Palestine, and even for the Maghreb." (The Maghreb is the region of northern Africa, spanning west from Egypt through the heavily Islamic countries of Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria.)

Muselier left Rome shortly after his meeting at the Vatican, to fly to New York, where he will participate in the discussions there. The French official plans to hear the report submitted to UN leaders on Friday by Hans Blix, the head of the UN inspection team working in Iraq.