[NCC News] Iran president open to talks with U.S., religious leaders told
Washington, D.C., February 26, 2007--The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told a delegation of American religious leaders visiting Tehran last Saturday that he is willing to engage in talks with the United States government.
"I have no reservation about conducting talks with American officials if we see some good will," President Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying in a statement by a religious delegation just back from Iran. It was issued today at a news conference at the National Press Club here.
The delegation's statement (complete text below) called for immediate direct talks between the U.S. and Iran, an immediate halt to the use of enemy images in each other's rhetoric, and increasing the number of people-to-people delegations between the two countries at several levels.
"What the delegation found most encouraging from the meeting with President Ahmadinejad," said the statement, "was a clear declaration from him of no intention to acquire or use nuclear weapons, as well as a statement that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved through political not military means."
"President Ahmadinejad used the same train analogy quoted in the media about not stopping Iran's nuclear program," said the Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary for interfaith relations at the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), an analogy that brought him a storm of criticism from within Iran, including from his conservative base and senior religious leaders. "Yet, Ahmadinejad insists that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon. Indeed, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, under whose authority the nuclear program rests, has issued a 'fatwa' (edict) that making or using nuclear weapons goes against Islamic teaching."
"Ahmadinejad comes across as a very religious man," observed Premawardhana. "He is very unlikely to go against a religious edict."
The NCC's Premawardhana was among the 13-member delegation of religious leaders from the Mennonite, Quaker, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Baptist and United Methodist churches. They spent six days in Iran talking with religious leaders, government officials and general citizens.
"We believe it is possible for further dialogue and that there can be a new day in U.S.-Iranian relations," said their statement. But at a meeting last Tuesday there was at least one Iranian religious leader who desired to move further.
"We need to go beyond dialogue and establish tangible results," said Iranian Ayatollah Dr. Monhaghegh Damad of Shahid Behesti University in Tehran. "We need to hold dialogue to eliminate ambiguities and misunderstandings between religions that emerge once in a while and work through them to establish peace."
"Peace is the key teaching of Christianity and Islam and this will be realized in our lives," said Archbishop Sebouh Sarkissian of the Armenian Orthodox church in Iran at the Tuesday meeting. "This is the product of dialogue."
"As people of faith, we are committed to working towards these and other confidence building measures, which we hope will move our two nations from the precipice of war to a more just and peaceful relationship," concluded the statement.
The NCC is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches. These 35 communions have 45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.
NCC News contact: Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org . Latest NCC News at www.councilofchurches.org .
U.S. Religious Delegation Finds Hope in Iran February 25, 2007
As Christian leaders from the United States, we traveled to the Islamic Republic of Iran at this time of increased tension believing that it is possible to build bridges of understanding between our two countries. We believe military action is not the answer, and that God calls us to just and peaceful relationships within the global community.
We are a diverse group of Christian leaders from United Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Quaker, and Mennonite traditions. The Mennonites have 17 years of on the ground experience in Iran. We were warmly welcomed by the Iranian people, and our time in Iran convinced us that religious leaders from both countries can help pave the way for mutual respect and peaceful relations between our nations.
During our visit we met with Muslim and Christian leaders, government officials, and other Iranian people.
Our final day included a meeting with former President Khatami and current President Ahmadinejad. The meeting with President Ahmadinejad was the first time an American delegation had met in Iran with an Iranian president since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The meeting lasted two-and-a-half hours and covered a range of topics, including the role of religion in transforming conflict, Iraq, nuclear proliferation, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
What the delegation found most encouraging from the meeting with President Ahmadinejad was a clear declaration from him that Iran has no intention to acquire or use nuclear weapons, as well as a statement that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved through political, not military means. He said, "I have no reservation about conducting talks with American officials if we see some goodwill."
We believe it is possible for further dialogue and that there can be a new day in U.S. - Iranian relations. The Iranian government has already built a bridge toward the American people by inviting our delegation to come to Iran. We ask the U.S. government to welcome a similar delegation of Iranian religious leaders to the United States.
As additional steps in building bridges between our nations, we call upon both the U.S. and Iranian governments to: * immediately engage in direct, face-to-face talks; * cease using language that defines the other using "enemy" images; and * promote more people-to-people exchanges including religious leaders, members of Parliament/Congress, and civil society.
As people of faith, we are committed to working toward these and other confidence building measures, which we hope will move our two nations from the precipice of war to a more just and peaceful relationship.
Members of the delegation:
J. Daryl Byler, Director, Mennonite Central Committee's Washington Office
Jeff Carr, Chief Operating Officer, Sojourners/Call to Renewal
Ron Flaming, Director of International Programs, Mennonite Central Committee
Edward Martin, Director of Mennonite Central Committee's Central and Southern Asia Program
Jonathan Evans, Special Representative for Iran at the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Mary Ellen McNish, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Shanta Premawardhana, Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA for Interfaith Relations and Director of the NCC Interfaith Relations Commission
Maureen Shea, Director of Government Relations, The Episcopal Church
Patricia Shelly, Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA
Geraldine Sicola, Associate General Secretary for International Programs, American Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
David Robinson, Executive Director of Pax Christi USA
Joe Volk, Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
James Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church & Society (GBCS), The United Methodist Church ###