Iranian president wants to talk, group says

A delegation of liberal religious leaders returned the other day from a trip to Iran, where they met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The group has released a statement that urges face-to-face talks between America and Iran and asks both countries to “cease using language that defines the other using ‘enemy’ images.”

The statement also includes this:

“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.’ “

The idea that Ahmadinejad believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved through political means is bound to raise some eyebrows. Hasn’t he said that Israel will soon be destroyed?

Before the group went, several participants said they would talk to Ahmadinejad about his Holocaust denial conference. But it’s not mentioned in the statement.

There are a lot of questions that people might want to ask of those who took part in a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with the Iranian president. I don’t see that any are answered in the group’s statement, which you can read “here.”:

Participants on the trip were:

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

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.