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Spirit of Dialogue: Engaging Iranian Leadership on Nuclear Security

By Patricia Anton, Coordinator for the Muslim-Christian Initiative

The Institute for Political and International Studies of the Foreign Ministry of Iran held a high level conference last month entitled “International Conference on Iran’s Peaceful Nuclear Program and Activities: Modality of Cooperation with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].” Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Initiative, an organization founded by Senator Alan Cranston dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons, was the only American invited to speak at the conference. Additional American representation included a small interfaith delegation. I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan and spend some time with him during the Festival of Faiths in Louisville, KY, last year and was inspired by the energy and dedicated commitment with which his own faith drives his work. Reading his report from the conference, I was struck by how his efforts exemplify the spirit of dialogue.

One of the things that characterizes dialogue and sets it apart from other modes of communication and interaction is the aspect of listening carefully enough to allow for growth of understanding. This requires suspending one’s own initial thoughts, reactions and assumptions long enough to truly hear what is being said. In the absence of dialogue, internal perceptions tend to be self-reinforcing without being checked or verified from outside. The history of U.S. and Iranian relations since the 1979 revolution has consisted of hostility and suspicion with many opportunities for dialogue being missed. The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that announced that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 provides another important opportunity for dialogue with Iran. In this light, Jonathan’s report is significant in allowing us as Americans the chance to hear what Iranians are saying internally about their nuclear program and their willingness to work with the international community on nuclear security.

Jonathan’s own remarks demonstrate courage and, God willing, foresight, in stepping beyond the conflict pattern that frames Iran as the bad guy. He recognized their capacity for leadership and invited them to exercise that leadership in establishing standards for inspections that can be applied globally, an essential step in moving towards a world without nuclear weapons. Domestically, he has called on American leadership to step into the front of international non-proliferation efforts by working to reduce, and in due course eliminate, our own arsenals. His words ultimately invite partnership in solving the problem. He has called on Americans and Iranians to cross the boundaries of culture, religion, and nationality to address the threat of nuclear weapons, establish verification according to international standards and uphold the rule of law necessary to make the elimination of nuclear weapons possible and peace sustainable.

The Muslim-Christian Initiative has been from the beginning about dialogue and partnership, as well as the danger of nuclear weapons. It is one example of people of faith leading the way and demonstrating the courage to cross boundaries to pursue understanding, peace and more responsible stewardship of our world. It is very easy to become and remain entrenched in divisive rhetoric formed around any conflict. It takes effort and courage to step beyond and engage the opportunities for dialogue. I commend all of those who share the faith and confidence, expressed by Jonathan, “…that when we walk with wisdom, humility, human unity and compassion, the grace of God is certain.”

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