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U.S. Religious delegation going to Iran to talk peace

A U.S. religious delegation is set to visit Iran February 17-25, 2007 with plans to meet religious and political leaders in the hope of improving relations between the people of Iran and the U.S.

A delegation of 13 U.S. religious leaders will be visiting Iran next week (February 17-25) in order to deepen dialogue between religious and political leaders there in the hope of defusing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Meeting participants

During the weeklong visit the group is scheduled to meet with Christian and Muslim religious leaders, women serving in the Iranian parliament, former President Mohammad Khatami and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The U.S. delegation includes representatives from the Mennonite, Quaker, Episcopal, Catholic and United Methodist churches as well as the National Council Churches, Pax Christi and Sojourners/Call to Renewal in Washington, D.C. The trip comes after 45 religious leaders met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad for 75 minutes during his visit to New York, Sept. 20, 2006.

"Our primary goal is to engage in dialogue with a variety of Iranians," said MCC international program director, Ron Flaming. The trip is being organized by MCC and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Philadelphia.

Step back from conflict and suffering

"We are making this trip hoping it will encourage both governments to step back from a course that will lead to conflict and suffering," said Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the AFSC.

As the rhetoric of war appears to be intensifying on the part of both governments and the fact that neither government is speaking directly to one another about peace, the group is hoping their visit will make a positive contribution toward ensuring peace between Iran and the United States.

Holocaust and Israel

"At the same time there is great risk that our goal to encourage improved relations between the people of Iran and the U.S. will be overshadowed by the controversy surrounding President Ahmadinejad," Flaming said.

Ahmadinejad has been the target of international criticism for his controversial statements denying the Holocaust and a recent conference in Tehran supporting that view as well as, his condemnation of the state of Israel. Iran also has an ongoing dispute with the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"As we did at the meeting in New York, we intend to continue to engage the president on his statements regarding the Holocaust," McNish said. "The Holocaust is a historical fact and one of history's greatest human tragedies."

"These statements make it difficult for Americans to believe that a constructive dialogue is possible," she added.

Meeting with a variety of religious leaders

The delegation will spend most of their time with religious leaders in Tehran, Qom and Isfahan. They will meet with Iranian Evangelical Protestant leaders, the Archbishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Iran and Muslim religious leaders in the religious city of Qom.

After the visit the group will meet with members of the U.S. Congress informing them of what they heard leaders in Iran saying and ways to move toward lessening current tensions.

When several members of the delegation met with members of Congress in Oct. 2006 after the New York meeting with Ahmadinejad, congressional staff members encouraged them to continue their efforts and visit Iran if possible.

"We are hopeful," Flaming said. "As Christians we are called to talk with those we are in conflict with and move toward forgiveness and reconciliation. We pray this will open doors to diplomacy."

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... Payvand News - 2/15/07 ... --

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