US bishop calls for nuclear negotiations with Iran

Bishop Richard E Pates of Des Moines chairman of the US bishops Committee on International Justice and Peace 2 CNA US Catholic News 6 14 12 Bishop Richard E. Pates, chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, speaks at the June 2012 USCCB meeting. | Michelle Bauman/CNA.

The U.S. bishops' leader on international peace issues said that dialogue is the path to a peaceful resolution of nuclear concerns between the United States and Iran.

"Bold steps must be considered to counter this unfortunate and continually rising tide of aggressive posturing between our own nation and Iran," said Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines.

In a Dec. 18 letter to Thomas E. Donilon, national security advisor to the Obama administration, he explained that a "peaceful resolution will require direct, sustained negotiations over a considerable period of time."

The bishop, who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, voiced "deep concern" over the "dangerous situation facing our nation, the international community, and Iran."

Speaking on behalf of his committee, he urged the U.S. to immediately begin direct negotiations with the nation in order to avoid further escalation.

"Initiating such talks should be done without preconditions and might include extending to Iran some relief from current international sanctions," he said.

Bishop Pates pointed to "Iran's resistance to credible restrictions on its enrichment activities under the terms of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty" as a cause for concern. He also warned against "unjustified and unwise military action that could dramatically worsen an already critical situation."

The justice and peace chairman reiterated Pope Benedict XVI's call last year for "dialogue" and "joint solutions" concerning Iran.

A diplomatic resolution is needed, he stressed, "to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons capabilities while allowing them to enrich uranium for nuclear energy in compliance with international norms."

Preventing military action is critical, the bishop emphasized, noting Catholic teaching that "serious moral and juridical questions" are raised by preventive wars when there is not "clear proof that an attack is imminent."

He also pointed to analysts who have suggested that a preventive military strike on Iranian enrichment facilities could "lead to broader armed conflict that would likely engulf much of the Middle East."

Bishop Pates referenced three elements that experts have identified as a necessary framework for resolution.

The international community should affirm Iran's "right to enrich uranium" in exchange for an Iranian commitment to "limit enrichment convincingly short of weapons-grade potential as confirmed by verifiable inspections," he said.

In addition, the United States and international community must offer credible security assurances that they will not initiate military action against Iran as long as the nation adheres to treaty obligations and "does not itself initiate attack."

Iran should also be "assured access to international nuclear fuel cycle services at market rates."

Bishop Pates recognized that negotiations regarding such an agreement will raise opposition, but stressed that a diplomatic solution is advantageous to all parties and preferable to military action that could yield dramatic and unforeseen results.

He urged the U.S. to vigorously pursue peaceful negotiations to resolve tensions between the two countries.

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"The stakes are too high and the threats to human life too great to do less," he said.

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