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Sprague, Jackson meet with U.N. secretary-general

3/28/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: Head-and-shoulders photographs of Bishop C. Joseph Sprague and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan are available.

NEW YORK (UMNS) - United Methodist Bishop C. Joseph Sprague of Chicago and the Rev. Jesse Jackson met March 27 with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss the war in Iraq.

"We talked about several issues that are of deep concern to us and, we believe, to the whole church community," Sprague told United Methodist News Service as he waited for a flight at LaGuardia Airport after the meeting.

The bishop, who recently preached at Jackson's Rainbow/Push Coalition headquarters in Chicago, was invited by Jackson to accompany him to the United Nations.

One topic of discussion with Annan and his staff was the need for the Geneva Convention to be honored during the war in Iraq. "We want to be certain that POWs are treated as international law mandates," Sprague explained. Some in the church community, he added, have expressed an interest in visiting with prisoners of war on both sides.

The two religious leaders also expressed deep concern about getting food and water to the Iraqi people, particularly the children. "I want to know what's going to be done and what the church can do to assist with the whole business of humanitarian aid," Sprague said.

The bishop said Annan assured the pair that "the U.N. is poised to deliver" such aid, but needs access to do so.

The secretary-general also met March 27 with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the issue of humanitarian aid in Iraq. The U.N. Security Council has been considering the reauthorization of the Iraqi oil for food program.

Both Sprague and Jackson told Annan they believe it is not too late to broker a peace agreement in Iraq, despite the ongoing war.

"We surely received encouragement from the secretary-general for church communities to lift a voice for peace," Sprague said. He added that anyone who believes in a God of reconciliation "must advocate for and be open to possibilities beyond our comprehension. We must never give up."

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