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ABC News interviews Bishop Talbert on prospect of war

3/5/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: A photograph is available with this report.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - An interview with United Methodist Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, ecumenical officer for the Council of Bishops, will air March 5 on "ABC World News Tonight" as part of a story focusing on American Christians' disagreement over a war on Iraq.

President George W. Bush met behind closed doors on Ash Wednesday with Cardinal Pio Laghi, an envoy of Pope John Paul II. Laghi was bringing the pope's admonition about a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq. Bush has said he rejects the Vatican's argument that pre-emptive war with Iraq has no moral justification.

"It saddens me that even before the papal envoy arrived, the message from Bush was clear," Talbert said.

Talbert was interviewed by phone at Brentwood (Tenn.) United Methodist Church, near Nashville, by ABC reporter John Cochran.

Asked why Bush, a United Methodist, has so far refused to meet with American church leaders about the issue, Talbert replied: "That's a good question. I cannot speak for the president.

"I like President Bush," he continued. "He is a great man; he is a great president. We just differ on this issue. I wish he were more open to dialogue on this issue, which is so important to the future of this nation."

Bush is amassing U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf area for a possible military action against Iraq, based on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's reported buildup of weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. National Council of Churches and the United Methodist Council of Bishops have requested a meeting with Bush. "We regret the president has isolated himself from certain views," Talbert said. "He is only hearing one side."

Talbert was part of a delegation of religious leaders, led by the NCC, who visited Iraq Dec. 29-Jan. 3. The bishop is on the NCC's executive board.

Since that visit, he said he has committed himself to working to avert a war. Talbert has appeared in a 30-second commercial for cable television and has been interviewed by numerous news outlets.

"The Gospel compels me to speak up," he said. Too many innocent people, "our brothers and sisters," will die if a war is waged.

Talbert emphasized he supports "our sons and daughters and grandchildren" in the military who have a job to do.

"I love them, and I am doing all I can to support them by asking the policymakers to keep them from a war."

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