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Extend Olive Branch to Iran

September 29, 2013
Daniel E. H. Bryant
W.J. Mark Knutson

Editorial for the Register Guard, published 9/29/13
(Reprinted here with permission)


On the brink of an attack on Syria, the American people raised their voices against using military might. In response, and with an unexpected partner, our administration has sought the new path of creative diplomacy that our nation needs.

To work toward a lasting solution in Syria and avoid yet another military conflict, the United States must commit to the same kind of smart diplomacy with Iran.

President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani set a positive tone at the United Nations General Assembly, and the administration has scheduled the highest-level talks with Iran since the 1979 revolution.

Now, Congress must join in sending a clear message. It’s time to put down the tools of war and open our minds to the possibility of peace with Iran.

There is strong precedent for this in sacred scriptures. Both the prophets Isaiah and Micah offer a vision of a day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Harsh sanctions already are making life difficult for the Iranian people. Patients struggling with diseases such as multiple sclerosis and hemophilia are losing access to critical medicines. Fifty current and former Iranian political prisoners wrote to President Obama decrying the impact of “crippling” sanctions on their attempts at political engagement and activism.

Continuing to squeeze everyday Iranians is not the way a democratic nation that desires peace with justice should seek to change Iran’s behavior. Greeting the new president with harsh measures rather than openness to engagement will undermine the potential for a productive relationship between our nations. Since the days of the shah, our relationship with Iran has been deeply troubled.

The consequences of staying stuck in the same failed approach to Iran could be dire. We remain haunted by the devastation of the war in Iraq. Thousands of veterans struggle with mental and physical injuries. Countless Iraqis perished in that brutal and unnecessary war. Billions of dollars that could have housed, clothed and fed struggling Americans were wasted.

As Syria’s regional ally, Iran is also a crucial part of the difficult work that must be done to come to a political settlement and stop the horrifying violence in that country.

Closing off diplomatic options with Iran could set us on the path toward an even more devastating war. The election of a moderate leader in Iran has not silenced politicians and pundits driven by belligerence toward Iran. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., both have announced plans to introduce legislation authorizing force against Iran.

This saber rattling is particularly ill-timed, coming on the cusp of a real diplomatic opening and following a tremendous backlash against military intervention in Syria.

We must raise our voices, as the people of Iran have done, for peace between our nations.

Some skeptics doubt Rouhani’s intentions and refer to him as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But it would be a foolish mistake to ignore the real potential for a peaceful resolution and to simply throw our hands up without even testing the possibilities.

Productive negotiations with Iran will require respect and understanding of all sides of this conflict. Threats and punishment will not provide the kind of start to a productive relationship we all need in this time.

The door has been opened, however slightly, to a new beginning.

The forces working against a peaceful resolution are powerful. President Obama will need the support of the American people and Congress — which often has undermined a diplomatic agenda with Iran rather than reinforcing it.

Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and all of our Oregon representatives should speak up forcefully for diplomacy with Iran.

As people of faith from many great traditions and people of good will in this nation, let us show we will not be silent as we rally around those striving for diplomacy and peace in this new day with the people of Iran.


The Rev. Dan Bryant is senior minister of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Eugene. The Rev. W.J. Mark Knutson is the pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland.


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Photo by Paul Carter, The Register Guard, used by permission.