(WASHINGTON, D.C., 9/19/11) – A delegation of American Christian and Muslim leaders today issued a joint statement on their return to the United States after meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other officials in Iran to foster theological dialogue and to seek the release of hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal on humanitarian grounds.
The delegation traveled to Iran on Monday, September 12 at the invitation of the Iranian president and after having briefed the Department of State and the hikers’ families about the trip.
A STATEMENT BY THE CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM DELEGATION TO IRAN
CAIR leaders, Cardinal McCarrick, Bishop Chane discuss conversations on hikers
WASHINGTON, D. C., SEPTEMBER 19, 2011 — At the invitation of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an interfaith delegation including leaders of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and members of the Catholic and Episcopal churches arrived in Iran on September 13th to meet senior clerics and to continue theological conversations begun well over five years ago between religious leaders from the United States and Iran.
Delegation members included Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Washington, The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington and Interim Dean of Washington National Cathedral, and CAIR’s National Executive Director Nihad Awad, and its Board Chairman former State Senator Larry Shaw (NC).
The journey to Iran coincided with President Ahmadinejad’s public announcement that American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal would be released from prison within a short period of time. Bauer and Fattal had been found guilty by Iranian courts of entering Iran illegally, and were accused of spying for the United States government. They were sentenced to serve eight years in prison.
The delegation met Saturday with representatives of the Iranian Foreign Ministry and spent over an hour with President Ahmadinejad and other senior government officials. They were informed that their work prior to this trip and during their stay in Iran was extremely helpful and important in the decision to release the hikers.
President Ahmadinejad, while in conversation with members of the delegation, suggested the formation of a bilateral interfaith committee of Iranian and US religious leaders and scholars to begin the much needed work of theological and humanitarian bridge-building between the two countries, engaging the common element of compassion that is part of the theological principles of both Christianity and Islam.
Prior to the meeting with the Deputy Foreign Minister and the President, the delegation met with family members of Iranian citizens who are being held in US prisons.
The delegation’s visit to Iran was an opportunity to let Josh and Shane know through the delegation members’ many meetings with Iranian authorities over the past two years that their release from prison was imminent and that they would be home soon.
Based on their visit, delegation members stated that they would raise the issue of detained Iranian citizens with appropriate U.S. government officials with the hope that these conversations will address the circumstances of Iranian detainees in a similar spirit of compassion.
“We hope that this initiative becomes a positive example of religious public diplomacy that shows how nations and cultures can move away from confrontation and embrace cooperation and mutual understanding,” a member of the delegation said. “We wish to express our gratitude for the hospitality and openness shown to our delegation by the Iranian government during our visit.”
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