Pope Benedict gave his annual New Year's state of the world address to diplomats from 175 countries accredited to the Vatican. He spoke of his concerns and the challenges in today's world. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

In a wide-ranging speech, Pope Benedict spoke of his concerns over the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran. Addressing diplomats accredited to the Vatican, he said that in the area of disarmament, symptoms of a developing crisis are multiplying.

He said this was linked to difficulties in negotiations over conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction.

Pope Benedict urged Iran to give a satisfactory answer to the legitimate concerns of the international community with regards to its nuclear program to improve the situation in the region.

The pope also spoke of his concerns for world hunger saying millions of people, especially women and children, continue to lack water, food and shelter. He called this an unacceptable scandal in a world, which has the resources and knowledge to solve the problem.

In his analysis of world conflicts, Benedict urged an end to the fighting in Somalia.

The pope said the situation in the Horn of Africa has worsened with the starting of new hostilities and the internationalization of the conflict. He appealed to all parties involved to give up weapons and negotiate.

Pope Benedict also spoke of the drama of Darfur that he said, continues and is extending to the border regions of Chad and the Central African Republic.

The pope said the international community has seemed powerless for almost four years, despite efforts to bring relief to the populations in distress.

Benedict said there were some signs of hope in efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict. He expressed hope that leaders would take advantage of the progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations to forge a negotiated peace.

The pope said the Lebanese have a right to see the integrity and sovereignty of their country respected; the Israelis have a right to live in peace in their state and the Palestinians have a right to a free and sovereign homeland.