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Church delegations speaking with European leaders about Iraq

2/19/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: This report may be used as a sidebar to UMNS story #087.

By United Methodist News Service

The Feb. 18 meeting at 10 Downing Street is the third such exchange about Iraq between U.S. religious leaders and European politicians.

Two weeks earlier, members of a U.S. delegation joined their European and Middle Eastern counterparts in Berlin at a meeting that included an hour-long, closed-door session with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The meeting, sponsored by the World Council of Churches, included three United Methodist leaders: Bishop Walter Klaiber of Germany, James Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, and the Rev. Robert Edgar, chief executive of the U.S. National Council of Churches.

The Feb. 5 Berlin meeting resulted in a statement opposing the use of war by the United States or other countries "as an acceptable instrument of foreign policy" but also calling upon Iraq to destroy any weapons of mass destruction and cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors.

On Feb. 10-11, a five-member NCC delegation met with French church members to discuss peaceful solutions to the Iraq crisis. The French Protestant Association hosted the Paris meeting, and other participants included representatives of the Council of Catholic Bishops of France and Rudiger Noll, an executive with the Conference of European Churches.

On the political front, the church leaders met with Hubert Colin de Verdiere, general secretary of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has supported President Bush's position regarding Iraq, was sought to make him aware that many U.S. church leaders oppose a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Bishop Melvin Talbert, ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops, was among those who spoke with Blair. President Bush himself has yet to agree to a request from church leaders for a meeting.

The National Council of Churches also intends to send delegations to Rome and Moscow.

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