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[PCUSANEWS] PC(USA) part of meeting with Iranian president

From News Service <newsservice@CTR.PCUSA.ORG>
Date Thu, 21 Sep 2006 17:20:12 -0400

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06479 September 21, 2006

PC(USA) part of meeting with Iranian president Religious delegation questions rhetoric on Holocaust

by Toya Richards Hill

LOUISVILLE * Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) officials, including the denomination's United Nations representative, were part of a delegation of Christian and Muslim leaders who met Sept. 20 with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Nearly 45 religious leaders discussed faith, justice and peace issues with the controversial Middle East leader during an hour-long meeting at the Inter-Continental Hotel in New York City. The meeting was organized and sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee, a relief, development and peace organization of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in the United States and Canada.

Officially representing the PC(USA) were Sara Lisherness, associate director of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and Joel Hanisek, Presbyterian representative to the UN. The names of other Presbyterian members of the delegation not officially representing the denomination were not released.

"We did not want to miss this opportunity to give witness to the Presbyterian Church's support of Israel and to reject the false and disturbing rhetoric of Holocaust denial used in the past by President Ahmadinejad," Hanisek said. "A meeting of this nature is challenging, but is a necessary step towards being the reconciling community that Christ calls us to be."

Ahmadinejad has publicly called the Holocaust a "myth" and also called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." His current visit to the UN has been controversial as well, with Ahmadinejad reportedly going toe-to-toe with members of the independent Council of Foreign Relations and still questioning the evidence that the Holocaust took place.

PC(USA) Executive Director Linda Valentine, who was not present at the meeting with Ahmadinejad, said the denomination was invited to attend the meeting and that the PC(USA)'s involvement was "carefully thought out."

"We had a number of conversations about it," she said. "We were careful about understanding who would be attending the meeting, the format of the meeting."

"I fully support constructive engagement and being a witness to our faith," she said. "We went with the intention of speaking out on issues that are of concern to us as Christians."

Among other things, the delegation affirmed Israel's right to exist, expressed concerns about Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic statements, addressed the obligations held by signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and discussed stability and security in the Middle East.

"We made statements that came in the form of questions. It was a (time of) sharing, it was dialogue," Lisherness said. "Specifically we shared our concerns about some of the inflammatory rhetoric and very hostile statements he has made about Israel and about America. We challenged him on his denial, or his clear misunderstanding, of what happened in the Holocaust."

Ahmadinejad disagreed with some of it, but "He seemed open to hearing what we had to say," she said. "At the end of the conversation he said that he was willing to continue to talk about matters of faith with religious leaders."

Lisherness said there also was conversation about a possible smaller delegation of religious leaders traveling to Iran at a later time, but that PC(USA) officials have not yet discussed whether the denomination would be part of that.


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