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On Rome Visit Annan Holds Out Hope for Peaceful Solution to Iraqi Crisis - 2003-02-18

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan met Pope John Paul II and Italian officials in Rome Tuesday to discuss the Iraqi crisis. Mr Annan said there is still hope of reaching a peaceful solution, but Iraq must heed the demands of the international community that it disarm.

The U.N. secretary-general said Iraq must "move very fast" and cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors or face a U.S. led war. Kofi Annan arrived in Rome late Monday and met with Italian officials including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during the day.

After his meeting with the Italian government leader, Mr. Annan said Iraq must disarm and act immediately and work proactively with inspectors to disarm.

The U.N. secretary-general did not say how long inspections should continue. He said that judgement was to be made by the United Nations Security Council. Mr. Annan also said there is still hope of reaching a peaceful solution and that war is not inevitable.

But he also said that the United Nations has contingency plans in case of war. He said these were outlined at a European council meeting in Brussels on Monday, including the costs involved in caring for refugees, internally displaced people and vulnerable children. He said Europe should play a key role in looking after possible victims of a war in Iraq.

The U.N. secretary-general also met privately with Pope John Paul II on Tuesday evening at the Vatican. During their talks they agreed on the essential role of the United Nations at this time and on the need to find a solution that respects international law.

The pope sent an envoy to Iraq last week with a personal message for President Saddam Hussein. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray returned from Baghdad on Monday saying that the Iraq leader convinced him that peace is still possible.

He said he found Saddam Hussein "very open to dialogue." The cardinal added that he tried to push the Iraqi leader to reflect and exert himself to the maximum to avoid an armed conflict.