US-Iranian Religious Leaders’ Dialogue: The Relevance of Moral Questions Related to Nuclear Weapons

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Ave NW, Choate Room
Washington, DC 20036
October 29, 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
A light breakfast will be served at 9:30 a.m.

A delegation of religious leaders from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) traveled to Iran earlier this year to engage in a religious and moral dialogue hosted by the Supreme Council of the Seminary Teachers of Qom, the preeminent center of religious scholarship in Iran. The religious leaders discussed nuclear weapons and Iran's nuclear program, among other issues.

The dialogue sought to promote greater understanding and peace between Americans and Iranians. In a joint declaration issued after the meetings, they explored foundational moral values and fundamental moral questions regarding weapons of mass destruction.

On October 29, the participants from the USCCB delegation will share reflections on their engagement with Shia religious leaders and scholars in Iran. They will discuss the moral questions both faith traditions raise related to nuclear weapons and the role religious actors can play in helping to create political space for further U.S.-Iranian engagement.


Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

Panelists include:

  • Bishop Richard E. Pates, Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and
  • Ebrahim Mohseni, Research Associate, Center for International and Security Studies, University of Maryland;
  • Dr. Stephen Colecchi, Director, Office of International Justice and Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Transcript by

Federal News Service

Washington, D.C. 

DARYL KIMBALL:  All right.  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome.  I’m Daryl Kimball.  I’m executive director of the Arms Control Association, and we’re an independent, nonpartisan membership organization.  We’re committed to raising awareness about and advancing solutions to deal with the threats posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons, particularly nuclear weapons.  And we’re very honored to be co-sponsoring today this briefing on an important U.S.-Iranian religious leaders dialogue exploring the relevance of moral questions related to nuclear weapons, which was led by a delegation of religious leaders from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who we’re partnering with on this event today.  They traveled to Iran earlier this year, and they met with Iranian religious leaders at the Supreme Council of the Seminary Teachers of Qom, which is the preeminent center of religious scholarship in Iran, and they discussed nuclear weapons and Iran’s nuclear program, among other important issues.  And we’re going to be hearing from some of the key participants in this important religious and moral dialogue this morning.  And I should just note that their initiative and this morning’s briefing comes at a pivotal time in relations between Iran and the United States and between Iran and the rest of the international community.  After extending talks on Iran’s nuclear program beyond the original July 20, 2014 target date, Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany are right now closing in, we hope, on a long-term verifiable, comprehensive deal to address concerns about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program.  And such an agreement could – should – block Iran’s potential uranium and plutonium paths to nuclear weapons and remove a major threat to regional and international security for many years to come.  This briefing is not specifically about those negotiations, though we can discuss them in the Q&A session, but it is about the religious and moral context within which Iranian leaders and the Iranian people will be making decisions about their nuclear program and their future role in international affairs. 

And so we have a great lineup of speakers this morning who were part of this delegation from earlier this year, and we’re going to be starting in just a few minutes with Bishop Richard E. Pates, who’s chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  He’s also the bishop of Des Moines, Iowa.  He tells me the corn is growing very well in Iowa right now.  He’s the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on International Justice and Peace.  He was elected to that position by the full body of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 2011, and he previously served as the secretary at the Apostolic Delegation of the Vatican Embassy in Washington from 1975 to 1981 and currently serves on the board of directors of the North American College of Rome and on other key boards.  So he’s been involved in these issues for many, many years. 

We’ll also hear from Ebrahim Mohseni, who’s research associate at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland and a senior analyst at the University of Tehran Center for Public Opinion and Research.  He is filling in this morning for his colleague John Steinbruner, who is the Arm Control Association’s chairman of the board of directors, and John is the director of the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland, who can’t be with us here this morning.  Ebrahim has played an instrumental role – played an instrumental role in coordinating the trip to Iran that we’ll hear about in just a few minutes. 

 And we’re also very pleased to have Dr. Stephen Colecchi, who’s the director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with Steve for many years, and he has been specializing in peace issues in the Middle East, among other topics. 

So with that introduction, I want to turn it over to Bishop Pates.  And after each of the panelists speakers, we’re going to take your questions and get into a discussion of these important issues.  So, Bishop Pates, it’s an honor to have you.  Thank you for collaborating with us on this event.

BISHOP RICHARD PATES:  Well, thank you, and delighted to be able to be with you, Daryl, and very grateful to you and to the Arms Control Association for hosting today’s event, and also to Kelly and Ploughshares for its generous support to today’s gathering.  So we’re very grateful for Ploughshares and tremendous interest that they take in this topic. 

I also bring the greetings from the heartland that – came in from Des Moines last night.  And as Daryl said, that despite the global warming, we’re going to have an all-time high corn and soybean crop in Iowa this year.  So China’s very happy about that since they import a great deal of our corn and makes them – feeds them well throughout the course of this year.

But anyway, the Catholic Church has been engaged in interreligious dialogue in earnest since the Second Vatican Council.  In 1965, the council declared, the Church regards with esteem the Muslim community.  They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself, merciful and all-powerful, the creator of heaven and earth.  So we have a very close relationship theologically, the understanding of one God who is the creator of all.

Secondly, in addition to its emphasis on dialogue since 1963, the Church has committed itself to seek a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, with an effective system of mutual control, and that was spoken about by St. John XXIII in his landmark encyclical Pacem in Terris as, again, in 1963.

Our U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took up this call in earnest in 1983 and again in 1993 with pastoral letters on peace and on nuclear weapons.  Since this time, we have been vigorous champions for nuclear disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation and a world without nuclear weapons. 

Just last April, I led a group of bishops and Catholic scholars at a colloquium “Revitalizing Catholic Engagement on Nuclear Disarmament,” held at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.  There we met with former Secretaries George Shultz and William Perry, who have made it their – (inaudible) – life concern to again enable the world to live without nuclear weapons.

Next month I will speak at a seminar on less nuclear stockpiles and more development, sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome.  And that particular paper, it will be guided by the fact that if the United States kind of diverted its spending for nuclear weapons, that there would be $35 billion a year available for assistance with other countries, perhaps really leading to peace, as opposed to the utilization of nuclear weapons and the spending that’s going to occur there.

It is no secret that Iran and the United States have had a troubled recent history and continue to have a contentious government relationship, although I think our government is trying to move in a different direction in that regard.  And the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program is especially prominent this time as a negotiated solution is being sought. 

As the Conference of Catholic Bishops, we’ve been looking for ways to build bridges of understanding between the American people and the Iranian people.  To that end, I led a delegation of bishops to Iran for religious and moral dialogue with Iranian religious leaders.  Our committee on International Justice and Peace hopes to contribute to a climate in which the P-5 plus one negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program can succeed.  But I should emphasize that our dialogue with our Iranian counterparts was purely religious and moral in nature.  And in terms of receiving an invitation from the religious leaders of Iran, it was their understanding that since from a religious perspective we coincide an understanding of truth, justice and peace, that we speak the same message, both Iranian and the Catholic community throughout the world.  And it was their idea to join together in a discussion, in a conversation, in order that perhaps by our own dialogue, by our own conversation, we might be able to have some influence on the political leaders of our countries – in other words, to establish a foundation that could be used for discussion among our political leaders in terms of achieving common ground.

And this initiative flows from our Church’s commitment to dialogue in international affairs.  As Pope Francis has said on many occasions, dialogue is the key.  In his words:  The way to resolve open questions must be that of diplomacy and dialogue.  This is the royal road. 

And as we have heard Pope Francis time and again emphasizes that process:  encounter.  We must meet each other.  Secondly, we must have dialogue.  And thirdly, hopefully, what will evolve from there is relationship – relationship which leads to human resolution of conflict. 

And so he wants to open that door and to say that it’s really possible if we proceed down that path.

The bishops’ international committee had discussed this project for over a year, that is, going to Iran, and consulted with Church and policy experts in shaping it, including informing U.S. public officials.  Dr. John Steinbruner, a consultant to the Bishops Committee, secured funding for the school – from the school of Public Policy at the University of Maryland for our trip.  Our delegation traveled to Iran last March from 11th to the 17th of March to meet with members of the Supreme Council of the Seminary Teachers of Qom, the preeminent center of religious scholarship in Iran.  Our delegation consisted of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is well known in this community for his leadership and dialogue and statesmanship; Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore, chairman of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.  So his responsibility is to oversee the dialogues between our ecumenical partners and our interreligious affairs.  Dr. John Steinbruner, a professor of public policy, University of Maryland, who has contributed very much over the years to a peaceful understanding of moving forward in relationships with other nations.  Dr. Stephen Colecchi, who is with us today, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace, and Mr. Ebrahim Mohseni, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland and also you have citizenship both in Iran and the United States.  So he is a bridge that enables us to have better understanding, and delighted that he is able to be with us.  And then I was the sixth member of the party.

We are very warmly welcomed by our Iranian guests.  Over a four-day period, we met with prominent ayatollahs and scholars in Qom, including Ayatollah Morteza Moghtadaei, vice president of the Supreme Council of the Seminary Teachers of Qom; Grand Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli; Ayatollah Jawad Shahrestani and Ayatollah Ali-Reza Arafi.

It’s worth noting that Ayatollah Moghtadaei serves on the Assembly of Experts, the body that elects the supreme leader in Iran, oversees the supreme leader’s work and periodically reconfirms him.  So the grand – or the supreme leader has not been anointed for life at this point in time, but also, as you see, has some accountability to render to a broader group.

Iranians feel profoundly misunderstood by America and the West.  They admit that many Iranians misunderstand America as well, and that the periodic slogan that we see on TV, “death to America” and chants by students, while aimed at government policies, clearly widen the gulf and the misunderstanding, unfortunately, that is portrayed on our screens.  Some think that the Iranians, the young Iranians perhaps need a new slogan.

But I have to tell you that our experience with the Iranians themselves was very positive from a human perspective.  We met some young students, probably teenagers, 14, 18 years old, who were on a tour.  And while we were visiting there, they came right up to us, took all kinds of pictures, and they wanted to be extremely friendly and just were totally taken interaction with ourselves like any of our U.S. students might do on a similar occasion.

And the service personnel could not have been kinder, could not have been nicer.  We were dressed in our black robes, obviously very Catholic.  We were chauffeured by three foreign officer individuals who are their chauffeurs, and the foreign service provided for us three Mercedes.  And the drivers were very friendly, and we felt very comfortable.  They put us up in a first-class hotel that was just completely – was just recently finished.  They were very warm, very kind, could not have done more for us.  We felt very much at ease with them, even friendly as we came to the end of it, that we felt that we had made friends and established good relationships.  This was quite contrary to the apprehension that I experienced before leaving.  People say aren’t you nervous, aren’t you scared, aren’t you aware?  And so that kind of highlights, I think, some of the perceptions that we have today that we need to the barriers that break – that really inhibit good understanding and moving forward, because the opposite is what we truly experienced.

It’s also a highly developed nation.  I’d say – suggest that next to Israel, it’s probably the most developed nation in the Middle East.  They have a 90 percent literacy rate, and the women outpace the men in terms of that literacy rate.  And we found also in our discussions, our social experience with the women, they’re extraordinarily warm, conversant and friendly with us, and enable us to have a good experience in feeling with them.

Of course, our own political media discourse in the United States often demonizes Iran and its leaders.  The Axis of Evil is part of our national lexicon, and the respected religious title of ayatollah has taken on a dark, almost sinister tone in our country.  So – and that their concern raised was, do we receive some of our interpretation through the lens of Israel?  Are we obtaining it directly, or do we have an intermediary lens that perhaps does not always provide the greatest accuracy of the people themselves?

The religious leaders and scholars with whom we met noted that terrorist attacks are more linked to Sunni extremists than to Shia Muslims.  They wondered why America and the West were closer to Arab governments that support many of these extremists.  And one concern that continues in terms of the relationship is an awareness of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1990s, and Iran suffered 130,000 casualties in that war.  And so they still have memory of U.S. support of Iraq during that time, and the utilization of chemical weapons, which were treated in that particular war, which were used by Iraq.  And so with that many casualties, you can just begin to imagine that the feelings of the families of people who lost individuals in that particular war.  So that continues to shadow from the popular perspective the relationship with the United States.

Nonetheless, we had productive religious and moral discussions, starting with general moral principles and moving towards specific applications to nuclear weapons when we were with the ayatollahs.  We have some general similarities between Shia Islam and Catholicism, including an emphasis on faith and reason – we found a very great similarity there – a devotion to saints, and a structure of teaching authority – some ways, ayatollahs have the roles that are similar to those who – those of us who serve as bishops in the Catholic Church.

What the Catholics and the Shia Muslim leaders in our dialogue repeatedly referred to the belief in that one God that unites Jews, Christians and Muslims and calls us all to work for the common good of the whole human family.  There is a real emphasis on Christianity, Islam cherishing a common heritage that cherishes above all love and respect for the life, dignity and welfare of all members of the human community.  Both traditions reject as reprehensible all forms of transgression and injustice.  We oppose any action that endangers the life, death, dignity or welfare of others.  Catholicism and Shia Islam hold a common commitment to peaceful coexistence and mutual respect no matter what the – what other boundaries there may be.

We then exported them how these foundational moral principles unite us in raising fundamental moral questions regarding the utilization of weapons of mass destruction.  We were told in the clearest terms that Shia Islam opposes and forbids the production, stockpiling, use and threat to use chemicals of mass destruction.  And this might be taken into consideration, that even though Iraq used chemical weapons in the war in the 1990s, Iran did not respond with the same use of similar weapons.  And so they shared stories of their own tradition that forbade indiscriminate weapons and the destruction of innocent people. 

We noted that the Catholic Church is also working for a world without weapons of mass destruction and has called on all nations to rid themselves of these indiscriminate weapons.  We specifically noted our support for both nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, and it has been a consistent policy stance of ours since Vatican II.

We pushed our Iranian dialogue partners in the status of the fatwa issued by Ayatolla Ala Khomeini.  They confirmed that it is a matter of public record and is highly respected among Shia scholars and Iranians generally.

And we heard from them, our understanding, a very simple rendition of this and that it – if there are any Jesuit-educated individuals here, it follows kind of the prescription of two propositions and a conclusion.  And the simple kind of explanation of it is that the Shia Islam, because all humanity is created by the divine, each of the human persons so created has a dignity, has a irreversible attribute of the divine within her or within him.  And because of that reality, that created reality, that we – that individual deserves respect.  That individual deserves kindness no matter what their religion, no matter what their situation.  So from the very beginning, there’s this utter respect that is attributed to the human being because of its divine creation and the relationship to the divine.

So how does this play out in reality?  Well, then you have the second proposition saying that there are two forces that are opposing one another, one lives upstream from the other and the other is downstream, and they are at war with one another.  So would it be moral for the upstream to poison the river so that when that water arrives downstream to the enemy, then it would be wiped out?  And the answer:  No, it is immoral because of the fact that it would be the indiscriminate killing of innocent persons who are made in the divine, who require our respect and our understanding.  And so this is immoral and cannot be used.

So then the question comes up, how about nuclear weapons?  Are nuclear weapons a moral force that could be used for the purpose – the same sort of purpose as described above, and the answer again is no, that they are immoral because of their indiscriminate nature and their powerful force of destroying all types of innocent community, so that from the religious moral perspective of Shia Islam and the fatwa, the teaching of the supreme leader, that these – which they affirmed as really being in existence, that it is immoral for them – for the utilization of nuclear arms and teaching.

So they argued that the fatwa could not be reversed so as to contradict itself, even if Iran’s strategic calculations changed.  This would undermine the authority of the supreme leader, which guides in a general way Iran’s political class so that the – Iran is based on a political class which runs the everyday government, that the ayatollah and the grand ayatollah and the supreme leader provide the moral direction for the community and that that is – the moral direction influences the political determination and in this case that they would continue to say that from a religious perspective that the utilization of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons, utilization of them, is immoral and could not be sustained.

So both our Iranian interlocutors and our Bishops Conference have committed themselves to continued and deeper discussions in the future – and perhaps this will be spoken about a little later – that we anticipate a visit to the United States from our friends in Iran if it all can be arranged in the not-too-distant future, to carry on our dialogue, and also to hopefully make more public these stands that we have taken, at least disperse this news in a way that truly gets out of the religious leaders’ stance on these issues and trying to take away some of the – you know, the shadows that exist in the relationships and to get to the heart of the matter of what we truly believe.  So thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.  (Applause.)

MR. KIMBALL:  Thank you very much, Bishop Pates.  And now, for more on these issues, Ebrahim Mohsensi, you have the floor.

Ebrahim Mohsensi:  I’ll be short so that we would have more time for the Q&A.

I was involved in coordinating, basically, this trip.  And the first thing I had to do was convince the ayatollahs in Tehran that this was a worthwhile endeavor, and that itself took, I would say, about a year of going back and forth between – you know, between Washington to Tehran and between Tehran to Qom.  And it was – it was an enlightening experience in the sense that a lot of the concerns – I’m sorry – a lot of the concerns that they initially would voice about such a trip were themselves rooted in the deep mistrust that exists between the two countries.  Some of these concerns were that – is this going to be, basically, used as a propaganda scheme by the U.S. government, that even the Iranian ayatollahs want to have dialogue with the Americans, you know?  These sort of concerns required a lot of negotiating back and forth and emphasis on the strict religious nature of this – of this delegation.

The Iranians – I think that the most important factor that really convinced them that this was a worthwhile endeavor was their concern that a lot of people outside of Iran judge them or talk about them without having any real information about them.  So on the issue of fatwa, they were really concerned that a lot of articles and, you know, opinion pieces have been written without any ayatollah ever being consulted on the matter.  And that itself was enough for them to – you know, to agree that perhaps this could be the beginning of injecting some truth into the debate that is occurring not only in Iran, but also – not only in Washington, but also other countries around the world. 

During the discussions, as Bishop Pates noted, I and Professor Steinbruner really pushed them as to the nature of the fatwa, as to how categorical is the fatwa?  Could it be changed?  Under what circumstances could it be changed?  And the responses we got, not only in our discussions with – you know, with the several ayatollahs that we met but also with the Shia scholars, were quite unequivocal, categorical, and without any qualifications.  And what is interesting is that their emphasis was that this is not something new, this is not something that Ayatollah Khamenei has come up with, you know, when they – you know, that this has deep roots in Shia jurisprudence, and that – and in our discussions with other grand ayatollahs, we basically heard the same kind of categorical opposition to weapons of mass destruction.  And as you know, grand ayatollahs are independent of each other.  Basically, one of the differences between the Shia school of thought and Catholicism is that they have several popes.  So each of these grand ayatollahs are – basically act as a pope; they could issue decrees.  So they are basically independent of each other.  And all these different grand ayatollahs that we met, they voiced the same opinion, religious opinion.  And the emphasis was that this is not something that, if even Ayatollah Khamenei would decide to – one day would, perhaps, change his opinion, it would be really tough for him to convince all these other ayatollahs that a new way of thinking is required on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

One of the things that I do professionally is that I collect public opinion data from Iran and from other countries.  And one of the issues that we have investigated is, in fact, the – you know, the public attitudes from a moral perspective in regards to nuclear weapons.  And the results we get is quite similar to what you heard in Qom.  I’m just going to go through some of the numbers really quickly.

Back in 2008, we asked whether nuclear weapons was against Islam or not.  In 2008, 58 percent said that it was against Islam to produce nuclear weapons.  We asked the same question last week, and the data now stands at 65 percent of people who say producing nuclear weapons is against Islam.

Last week, we asked a question about Iran’s decision not to use chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War.  We basically said that, as you know, Saddam used chemical weapons during that war; Iran decided not to retaliate in kind.  Do you think that was the right decision, or should have – should Iran have retaliated in kind?  And the response we got to that, 19 percent said that we should have retaliated in kind as compared to 78 percent who say that it was the right decision for Iran not to have retaliated in kind.

And the views regarding the fatwa, there is overwhelming knowledge of the fatwa.  In fact, more people know about the fatwa than they know about the NPT.  Sixty-three percent have heard of the NPT, have some knowledge of the NPT, as compared to 71 percent who accurately identify what Ayatollah Khamenei’s opinion is in regards to nuclear weapons.  By the way, the 63 percent is quite a high number, I mean, on the NPT; in the U.S., it’s about 28 percent. 

So taking that into mind, I think it’s important – and I think one of the things we should try to do in this town is to try to safeguard as best as we can these perceptions in Tehran by giving weight to it.  You know, if we would dismiss these out of hand and would say these are not important, whatnot, we do not create the – not that our incentives really matter, but our incentives could help the Iranians and Iranian scholars in Iran try to reinforce these opinions, both among the public and among the religious community, because I think at the end of the day it is not the technical capability that really matters, it is that decision.

We know from literature on nuclear weapons and development that if a country really decides to create nuclear weapons, to develop it, they will eventually, you know, do it.  It is that decision which is, I think, the most important element, not the capabilities.  And I think what prevents that decision from happening is precisely these public opinions in opposition to nuclear weapons and those religious guidelines that prohibit the production of nuclear weapons.  With that, I will pass it.

MR. KIMBALL:  Thank you very much.

Steve.  (Applause.)

STEPHEN COLECCHI:  Well, I’m sort of the clean-up batter here, and I will also be brief.

To some people, it might seem naïve to take religion seriously regarding such a major geopolitical issue, which has life-and-death ramifications, but I would argue that we ignore the influence of religion as a motivator and a validator at our own peril.  Religion is a powerful motivator of people, of cultures, of societies, including our own, and it affects political activity.

For many years, religious leaders in the United States have been talking to the State Department, trying to help the State Department to “get” religion.  And by “get” religion, we don’t mean become religious but rather to understand religion, to understand the role it plays in cultures, to understand the role – the influence it has in political systems.  And the U.S. State Department, to its credit, is working on that.  I think, to its great credit now, you know, Shaun Casey has been appointed special adviser to Secretary of State Kerry for faith-based and community initiatives.  The White House also gets this, and for some time has had an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, currently headed by Melissa Rogers.

But I don’t think the impact of religion as a factor in political decisions has permeated either the State Department or, for that matter, our own culture.  We don’t – we have a caricature of what religion looks like in Iran, rather than a real grasp of what that looks like. 

I just want to recount one experience.  When we first arrived in Qom, their holy city, the place of their major seminary study, to meet with the Supreme Council, the very first place we were taken was to the shrine of Fatima – major figure in their – in Shia history and in the Shia faith.  A saint, as it were in Catholic lexicon. 

And entering that place – that was one of the places where the bishops were mobbed by young people wanting to get selfies with them.  They were obvious.  They had crosses on.  I mean, they looked even more bishopy than the bishop looks today.  (Laughter.)

BISHOP PATES:  Thank you, Steve.  (Laughter.)

MR. COLECCHI:  You’re welcome.  And – but when we went in there, the quietness of the place, the crowds moving through, the candles that were lit, the people praying and signs of reverence as they moved past her gravesite and so forth, I felt like I was in a Catholic cathedral.  This faith is real.  It’s palpable.  It was like being in a Catholic dedicated to the memory of a saint.  Iran is a very, very religious culture.  It’s also a very modern culture.  And it is not at all like the caricature of the sort of fanatic religion that we see depicted too often or used in political speeches.

And I think it’s this – that’s – in that light – the fatwa needs to be looked at in that light, in light of their whole culture and religious system.  You know, you’ve heard about the fatwa.  There’s not only the fatwa of Ayatollah Khamenei but also Khomeini.  I mean, both have – both issued fatwas.  One in relation to chemical but also nuclear, one specifically on nuclear.  I won’t – I won’t go over all those.  And they’re in several public places and you can get a sense of them.

Gareth Porter has just recently done an article that was really excellent, an interview with an individual who in several meetings with Ayatollah Khomeini – the founder of the Islamic Republic, the first supreme leader – you know, when the chemical weapons were being used, you know, they started actually developing the components of chemical weapons.  And the Ayatollah said – the supreme leader said no.  It’s forbidden.  It’s haraam.  One hundred and thirty thousand deaths later, they still did not employ those weapons.  I think we need to take that kind of evidence very, very seriously.

And I don’t think our State Department quite does yet, to be honest.  I don’t think our country does yet, to be quite honest.  On October 16th, a senior State Department official said – had this to say in Vienna:  Iran has said they don’t want a nuclear weapon, have never wanted a nuclear weapon, never will have a nuclear weapon, including a fatwa by the supreme leader.  What these negotiations are about is whether Iran is willing to take verifiable actions to show the world that their program is indeed for peaceful purposes.

So they mention the fatwa in an almost off-handed way and basically dismiss it, as if it has no relevance.  Now, I’m not saying it has every relevance, but it has some relevance.  The fatwa is clearly pervasively taught and defended within Iran.  It’s known by its people.  And we’ve got to understand their governmental system.  They have – they’re on an unprecedented kind of venture.  They are – at one point we – I made this mistake of referring to a theocracy.  And, boy, they jumped down my throat in several different – actually, it only happened once.  I’m a slow learning, but I’m not that slow. 

They said, no, we are democracy that is guided by moral principle.  So the role of the supreme leader is to articulate the moral principles within which government must operate.  And it cannot be contravened and so forth.  So they have this very interesting blending of authoritative moral guidance with representative government.  That’s kind of their – and it’s different.  It’s different than anyplace else in the world, really.  And they have, in Qom, 120,000 scholars and ayatollahs and students and seminarians studying to learn this rich, rich Shia tradition so that they can help be the interlocutors throughout Iran to help maintain the religious foundation of this state, which is representative government but guided by moral principles.

So the possibility of changing the fatwa overnight is nonexistent.  This should be part of a – what needs to be taken into account by diplomats.  You know, what it would take, not only – to change the decision, as it were, because it can’t be done like that.  That would undermine the whole teaching authority of their system.  It would be inconceivable to a Catholic that a pope would do that like that.  It’s inconceivable to them that an ayatollah or a supreme leader would do that as well.

Now, I’m not saying that every Iranian agrees with this, even at the time of the founding supreme leader, you know, there were those in the military who were preparing chemical weapons, right, or preparing the components for them.  But they did finally abide by the decision of the supreme leader.  It has a serious effect.  So maybe not every Iranian official in Iran today agrees with the direction that the Islamic Republic has taken, but they certainly have to take it into account.  It is serious.  It is very serious.

And I think that’s what the bottom line is, based on this religious dialogue, anyway.  We’re simply asking our people, our government and others – at least take this into account.  It is a factor and it might make the space for negotiations easier, to really understand this – about this – the nature of Iran the nature of the fatwa and how deeply embedded it is within their culture. Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

MR. KIMBALL:  All right.  Well, thanks to all of you for your incredible work with this initiative, which is truly ground breaking, and fascinating, from my perspective, working on these issues for many years, to focus on the moral dimensions.  So thank you very much.  It’s now time for our audience to offer their questions.  And let’s start with some of the journalists in the audience, if we could.  Barbara and then we’ll go to our friend here.  So if you could bring the mic – yeah, bring the mic up so our transcriber can hear you.  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you.  I’m Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council and also the Al-Monitor website.  Couple questions, if I may, to Steve Colecchi.  You talk about the fatwa, but there’s also something called maslahat, or expediency.  Things can change in Iran if it’s expedient and necessary to keep the system going.  So I wondered if you discussed that with your interlocutors. 

To Mr. Mohsensi, if you could tell us a little bit more about this poll?  Is this the first time you’re releasing these results?  And can we see the full poll?  Where can we find that?  And to Bishop Pates, you said you talked about moral dimensions.  Yes, Iran has a fatwa against WMD, but they executed 900 people last year.  And their human rights record is not good.  Did you talk about capital punishment?  Is this a subject for the future?  How do they explain, you know, the way in which they execute people for offenses that we would, even in this country, probably, not execute people?  Thank you.

MR. KIMBALL:  OK.  Why don’t we take those questions and then we’ll go to the next person.

MR. COLECCHI:  Sure.  That’s a trifecta, wow.  (Laughter.)

Q:  I’m glad you liked it.

MR. COLECCHI:  We did talk considerably about the fatwa and whether there was any condition, any expediency, any anything that could change it.  And the answer we got was categorically no.  That it was too clean. 

In fact they used an example, which I thought was rather interesting.  There used to be a fatwa against chess.  Chess was haraam, forbidden.  And the reason why there was a fatwa against chess is because people gambled on chess.  That was – that was the purpose of the game.  When chess became a game of the mind and no longer a game of gambling, then the fatwa was changed to be only against gambling, but not against chess.  I don’t know the details of it, I’m so sorry.

But they use this as an illustration of explaining that a fatwa can change and develop, but not by way of contradiction.  It just – it cannot by way of contradiction.  And so my answer to you would be no, I don’t think – I know the answer we got was expediency would not override the fatwa.

MR. MOHSENI:  Now, about the polling data – some of the data that I indicated, knowledge of the fatwa and the 2008 data on whether nuclear – production of nuclear weapons is prohibited or not – is on University of Maryland website.  So you can go to the website.  And the data on those would be available.  The data that I referred to about what they conducted basically last week is not yet up online, but it will be.  And if you want – I mean, if you give me your contact information, once it’s up I can – I can share the data with you. 

MS.     :  (Inaudible.)

MR. MOHSENI:  These are all probability sample – 1,000, margin of error, 3 percent. 

BISHOP PATES:  The invaluable situation with regard to dialogue is that we learn, and sometimes, they had presented in our discussions – I can’t think of any immediate examples – situations that really don’t exist, or misinterpretations of the activity of the United States, which we are able to clarify.  Unfortunately, we did not get to, I think, capital punishment, so it’s not – but it can be, certainly, put on the agenda for future discussion, and I think that’s an extraordinarily important point.  And – but we’d also have to consider our own position on capital punishment so it would be a true dialogue.

And then, secondly, I think that the Catholic Church has experienced a revolution in its understanding of capital punishment, too, so that we’re at the point that you know, we do not abide by it basically.  So I’ll – I think cultures are moving in a direction of – and so it would be a very interesting point, and thank you for suggesting it.

MR. KIMBALL:  Yes, ma’am.  And if you could wait for the microphone, I’m sorry.  Yes.

If you can just identify yourself.

Q:  Pat Zapor from Catholic News Service.  Bishop Pates, you talked a little bit about some of the fears in Iran before you came that it might be used for propaganda purposes.  What have any of you heard back about how news of this delegation – this meeting was received?  Was there pushback?  Was it – was the information well-received?  And I realize, in this country, I wrote a story, but there weren’t a lot of us doing that, and there really isn’t – hasn’t been a lot of information out.  But what feedback have you received from either side?

BISHOP PATES:  Well, two-fold.  One from our – we did briefings with our American government, both the Congress, State Department and the executive branch, and it was all well-received, I think, that they were appreciative of the dialogue and information from a religious perspective.  So I would say the bottom line there was positive and helpful to understanding of peoples moving forward, working together, coming at it from a different perspective. And then, secondly, just in my own conversations back home in Des Moines, that – after explaining it all, that they always said thank you – thank you for doing this; somebody must be about these issues and questions.  And I think that it reflects the real hearts of the Americans, that they want to have peace, they want to have dialogue, they want to have people working toward these goals.

And oftentimes, you know, our political portrayal, you know, does the opposite – (chuckles) – and creates an enemy so they can take action, when, in fact, it’s more of a creation, perhaps, than a reality.  So I think, on the local scene, that it was very well-received, and I think, among our bishops and others, that as a representative of the international justice that they’ve all thanked me and thanked our committee, to all of those who went for doing this in appreciation – very much appreciative of the work that we’re undertaking in this regard.

MR. COLECCHI:  If I could just add another comment, because at the conference of bishops – at the office, as opposed to in Des Moines, we actually receive any feedback that comes off of our website, or, you know, commentary on activities of the bishops and so forth, and I can – I can say that we did not receive any appreciable negative commentary on either of the two press releases that we made available to you – the joint statement that the bishops and the Shia scholars issued, or the initial press release about the trip itself.  We received – I don’t know if people weren’t paying attention; I don’t want to invite negative commentary necessarily – (laughter) – since that means drafting lots of responses, but there was not a lot of – there wasn’t any.

MR. MOHSENI:  And on the Iranian side, interestingly – and it was totally out of coincidence that our trip to Iran coincided with a series of religious delegations, going to Iran.  I know for a fact that that was not coordinated.  The press coverage that it got in Iran happened at two different levels.  One was the press relating to the religious communities of Qom, which primarily focused on the dialogue and what was exchanged between the Catholic bishops and the Ayatollahs, and it was – the tone of it was totally positive.

The more mainstream press saw this whole activity as one package.  And there were different types of commentaries on it.  Mostly it was positive – mostly, that this will encourage mutual understanding between the two nations, and hopefully, that would trickle up to the – to the politicians.  But then, there were some other negative commentaries as well, in the mainstream press, portraying these sort of trips as an agenda to undermine Iran’s resistance toward the United States, and the – you know, that whole narrative.  So – but in general, I have to say, in general both the local press and the national press in Iran – the coverage was quite positive.

Q:  (Inaudible) – official from the government – (inaudible) –

MR. MOHSENI:  There was only one official – not about our – as far as I know, not about our delegation, but about another religious delegation, when there was a question of whether that delegation was carrying a message from Obama or not, and the public statement was that – no, that this was a purely religious interaction.

MR. KIMBALL:  All right.  Yes, and if you could bring the microphone over here.  Thank you.

Q:  Jo Biddle from AFP, Agence France-Presse – I wonder if I could ask the panel.  Given the fact that they were so insistent that this fatwa couldn’t be changed, whether you probed them on why, so far, the nuclear program has been so secretive, and why, up until the JPOA was agreed – the interim agreement – there had been no inspections, and they basically kicked the IAEA inspectors out of the country, and why they were, you know, pursuing their nuclear program?  And I wanted to ask Daryl – I know we’re not really talking about the nuclear talks about the moment, but what is your sense about whether there might be an extension beyond the deadline of November 24th?

MR. KIMBALL:  Do you all want to answer the first part of the question?

MR. COLECCHI:  I could offer some tentative thing.  The – I think the Iranian perception is different than the U.S. perception regarding transparency to some degree, first of all.  And Gareth, in a couple of recent articles, has talked about that, and I would refer you to Gareth Porter.  The other thing I would say is that there is – one thing to understand that I came to appreciate it – let me just put it this way – about the Iranians is, they are heirs of a very, very proud tradition.  And I mean, that Persian tradition – that Persian national identity, in addition to their Shia religious identity – you know, their – they don’t particularly like having their internal affairs dealt with differently than other countries’ might be dealt with.

And so that might be part of it, but I think they would argue that they are really working very hard to be as transparent as possible, and I believe the interim agreement has shown that.  But I don’t think they would quite agree with your characterization.

MR. KIMBALL:  Yeah, so regarding the talks – and just to clarify one of the things you said in your question – I mean, the Iranian program has been under inspection – IAEA inspection – they are a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  In the 2005-2006 periods, the last major time when there were international negotiations on Iran’s program, Iran had been allowing more extensive inspections under something called the IAEA additional protocol.  When those talks broke down, they no longer – decided no longer to implement that.  But there have been inspections at the – all the major Iranian nuclear facilities on an ongoing, regular basis.

With the joint plan of action that was struck a little less than a year ago, there were additional inspections that were agreed to at certain sites, like some of the centrifuge production sites.  So just as a matter of fact and the record on that.  But as I said at the opening, the two sides are working hard, very intensively to try to meet the November 24th deadline – a new deadline.  It is clear from our conversations with people involved in negotiations on both sides of the table that they’ve made progress in a number of areas.  But they are still trying to close the gaps on a couple of key areas.

And as you might have heard from Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman last Thursday, you know, the U.S. and the P-5 believe they have put forward solutions on those issues.  They’re waiting for the Iranians to respond.  It is not clear whether they’re going to be able to reach a political agreement on all of the major issues.  I think the main issue that they still need to reach relates to defining the overall capacity of Iran to enrich uranium, and uranium can be enriched to fuel grade or weapons grade over the course of this multi-year agreement.

So that is one of the main issues that they still need to deal with, and for the P-5 plus one, it’s definitely – what they’re aiming for is to reduce the capability while confidence is restored about the nature of the program.  And I don’t think that they’re going to be extending the joint plan of action.  That is not their first choice.  I think the P-5 plus one believe, and I think the Iranians believe that if there is going to be a comprehensive, multi-year agreement, the decisions necessary to reach that agreement can and should be made now, and extending the JPOA – the interim agreement doesn’t help them resolve those issues.

That said, they could very well announce in the next few weeks that they’ve achieved substantial progress on some of the remaining issues of disagreement, but they need more time to work out the technical details about how to implement those decisions.  So they may decide jointly to take more time to negotiate those additional technical details.  We saw this a little bit a year ago when the two sides reached the broad agreement on the interim agreement, and then they took several weeks to negotiate the detailed technical annexes defining terms and how to measure things and how to verify things.

So I think that’s what we’re looking at.  So, you know, bottom line is, a conference agreement is still within reach.  There is an agreement that is out there if the two sides can find the right formula that meets the bottom-line requirements of each side, and for Iran that means, I think, preserving their dignity and preserving a uranium enrichment program that can provide for a future larger nuclear energy program.  Their current needs for uranium enrichment are relatively low.  And for the P-5 plus one, it’s to reduce the capacity so that they have confidence that Iran could not make a fast break for producing weapons-grade material and to make nuclear weapons, which would require overcoming a number of hurdles.  And not just technical, but political, moral, religious – not just the fatwa, but the nuclear nonproliferation treaty itself.

So that’s how I see things playing out.  We’ve got several other questions here.  Let’s go to the gentleman in the second row, and then we’ll go to the third, and then we’ll come back over here.  Thank you, sure.  Right here, yep.

Q:  Alex Patico with the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.  You put an emphasis on the nature of the delegation and the discussions as moral and religious.  You obviously did get into the nuclear issue.  What – were there other substantive conversations on other topical issues such as the justification for or impact of Western-imposed sanctions or in Israel-Palestine?

MR. KIMBALL:  OK.  And why don’t we just take another question here, and we can take a couple at a time with Mr. Levine right there.  Thank you.

Q:  Edward Levine, retired staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  I was very interested in your discussion of the Iran-Iraq War, because back in the days when I was active, an Iranian professor came and gave a briefing at which he said that it was the Iran-Iraq war that led Iran to start its nuclear weapons program, and he went into some detail about the decisions that were made and how that crucible of decision made it very unlikely that Iran would ever agree to completely give up its uranium enrichment.  So I’m wondering, to what extent your interlocutors discussed the period before 2003 and what they made of that?

MR. KIMBALL:  All right.  Who would like to take those two questions?  Bishop Pates?

BISHOP PATES:  Well, I might just make reference to the sanctions, et cetera.  While they were discussed just as an aside, they were more discussed informally with individuals as we moved around and were with the ayatollahs, et cetera.  And one ayatollah just said to me that, you know, it’s had an impact on the society, and the impact has basically been he had two sisters-in-law, both of whom had serious cancer which could have been addressed through medicines, but because the banks will not finance, you know, medicines – they’re off the sanctioned list, so to speak – but because they could not get financing to bring the medicines in, both of these women died. 

And he – of course, that’s a very touching issue for himself.  You know, we were conversing there and, I think, in a friendly way, but there have been, you know, repercussions, and of course, that – on a personal level that really has impact on them.  So I think that they would say basically that they’re surviving, et cetera.  The other thing he said that it really has kind of an opposite reaction than we might anticipate because it’s a call for the people themselves to come together, you know, maybe like in the course of the Second World War, where people came together in the restrictions as being a part of a country’s, you know, objective to obtain the war so that they’re willing to give up certain things for an objective of achievement. 

And so they made some reference to that too, that it, in a certain sense, has brought the people closer together in their loyalty to Iran.  But also, you know, just the individual ad hoc situations and conversations with the individuals that they really did say that perhaps it’s portrayed – you know, the medicines are reaching, at least that’s the public knowledge, but their own personal experience is quite the contrary. 

MR. COLECCHI:  No.  And I would agree with that.  They just can’t get it through the financial system, and I know that they’ve been working on that a little bit. 

Let me talk about the – it would be consistent with what we learned that Iran is trying to develop enrichment capacity and has been for some time.  I mean, they were quite upfront about that.  I would have to put together what we learned on the trip together with what I recently learned – again, I’m sort of citing the source a lot – Gareth Porter in his research piece – or investigative reporting piece October 19th, so not too long ago, when the Ayatollah said no to nukes. 

And it was clear from with inside the military establishment that during the Iran-Iraq war, the military moved – gathered researchers for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capabilities, and they began to do that.  When that was brought to the attention of the supreme leader before they had weaponized anything, before they got anywhere close to that, he said no, no, no. 

And so yes, there probably are early antecedents of a nuclear program – I think Iran would be – would admit that.  I think it did grow out of the experience of the war.  I don’t think it went anywhere because it ran into the opposition of the religious leadership. 

MR. KIMBALL:  Right.  A couple of other questions.  Why don’t we try over here and then we’ll come back to Nancy. 

Q:  Teresa Welsh with U.S. News and World Report.  Bishop Pates, I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about the conversations you said you had upon returning from the trip with White House, members of Congress and the State Department, and a little bit more about their reaction to what you found out.

BISHOP PATES:  Well, I think we had the discussion with those individuals.  I think Deputy Secretary Burns has been working on this for quite some time, and that they’re wanting to reach, you know, an agreement because it would be in the best interests of everybody.  And so he was very interested to learn about the religious factors and the religious leadership and how they’re addressing it from a moral perspective.  So I think it fed into the information that they wanted to receive in order to be able to, you know, move forward with their objective of – and the relationship with Iran.

So I think from that perspective, that they just received the information not necessarily from political, but it’s another sort of angle.  That’s all we were interested in, was sharing the religious outcome and moral perspective. 

So I think it gave them another perspective as Dr. Colecchi spoke a little bit earlier, that oftentimes this is not even part of the equation.  The religious and moral perspective that we do not even take that into consideration, but indeed, it’s a considerable factor in terms of the popular kind of support and development of these sorts of things and the way a nation goes, if they say they’re representative in the sense that their government is elected, and Rouhani, I think, is a different sort of individual than his predecessor.  And so that they are working in that direction. 

So I would say this, is that it can – we did not do it for a political reason, but just so that they have another information source, and so they were grateful for that information that – and our experience. 

MR. KIMBALL:  Steve, did you want to –

MR. COLECCHI:  The only thing I would add is we also had meetings at the White House with – and the experience was very similar.  In fact, I – we met at very high levels in the White House and also at the National Security Council with their whole team working on this, at the White House’s request.  So – the second – the second meeting.

And so I think there – they were very interested.  I mean, they asked all the tough questions, tougher questions than we’re getting here in many ways.  But they also appreciated the information.  I mean, it’s – you know, it’s – it’s a significant factor that they need to fold into all the other considerations they have as they are trying to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion.

BISHOP PATES:  I would add just one important point.  We are not agents of our government, and we went very independently apart from any – we would – we would have gone regardless if we had the discussions, but it was information to – and the theme that the, you know, the Iranians themselves has that were truth, peace and justice, and that’s our basic bottom line of what we’re about and how we try to – how we try to, you know, influence the common good for everybody. 

So we are – and we don’t want to say to the Iranians that we’re agents of our government; no way we were that.  But as a courtesy to our government, we brought that information.  But it was independent and basically a moral and religious undertaking. 

MR. COLECCHI:  Right.  And Bishop Pates has met with a number of members on the – on the Hill, with key staffers on the Hill, to also share this information.  In fact, we have another meeting scheduled this afternoon.

And – but, you know, there – the idea is we have something that we’ve learned and we need to share this as widely as possible.  And today is part of that effort.

MR. KIMBALL:  All right.  Nancy and then Greg? 

Q:  Hi, I'm Nancy Gallagher from the University of Maryland, and I’m going to quickly remind Ibrahim about his poll that’s up on the CISSM website that actually has a lot of the data that he referred to on Iranian attitudes towards the nuclear negotiations. 

So for example, on the fatwa and the NPT, also a lot of information about perceptions of sanctions and whether or not the sanctions are changing attitudes towards nuclear policy.  That’s very consistent with what Bishop Pates said. 

I wanted to ask you about whether you talked to your interlocutors about the concept of forgiveness and how they think about that, how you think about that and how that applies specifically to how we handle the issue of possible military dimensions, of nuclear research that was done, but also the larger issue of how we handle the, you know, sort of legacy of mistrust and grievances that both sides have towards each other. 

BISHOP PATES:  I would think from a religious perspective, we didn’t get into that in great detail, but I think, you know, both of us want to move forward, and that would necessarily entail forgiveness for whatever activity that has been undertaken or perceived to have been undertaken.  And that’s the purpose of dialogue, and I think is – you know, Pope John Paul II and also Francis especially have emphasized the necessity of, you know, forgiveness and healing and moving forward.  And so I think that was a unspoken kind of reality, but again, thank you for bringing it up because it could be a part of our future discussions and our dialogue. 

MR. KIMBALL:  All right –

MR. MOHSENI:  Let me just add something to that.  One of the things that I have heard a lot, both on this trip and in my discussions with both Iranian policymakers and academics, the reference to the Iran-Iraq war is something that, you know, we have forgotten in this town, but they haven’t forgotten back in Iran. 

I mean, anyone who travels to Iran would immediately face the reality that that event, that episode is not dead, you know, in that country.  And the question of why – why were we attacked, why the international community turned a blind eye to Saddam’s aggression, why they turned a blind eye even as Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons.  You know, there’s a lot of reference to the U.N. Security Council resolutions that, you know, even though Saddam – it was well known that it was Saddam who was using chemical weapons, the U.N. Security Council resolutions demanded both Iran and Iraq to stop using chemical weapons. 

And the fact that we haven’t on this side come to terms with – you know, with that episode and our responsibility in that – you know, in that conflict is something that they are observing quite – you know, quite vigorously and they’re looking for signs of us being, you know, somehow, in some way, apologetic about our activities and our support during that period.  And they don’t see any. 

Q:  Madeleine Albright in – (off mic) –

MR. MOHSENI: Right.  You know, they are waiting for – from their point of view, our engagement in that conflict was – you know, in some ways, some say that the crime of the U.S. in that war was greater than the crime of Saddam Hussein, and – you know, and there are ways of – we need to understand at least – whether it’s right or not, we need to understand where they are coming from and the fact that that conflict and our involvement in that effort is still alive in Iran. 

MR. COLECCHI: Actually, I’d like to add one thing.  We didn’t use the term forgiveness that I can recall in the dialogue, but I remember a very poignant moment in our – in our dialogue.  This was with the Shi’a scholars where we sort of identified for each other the wounds in the relationship.  So I remember them talking about not only the Iran-Iraq war, but the overthrow of their first – of their democratically elected government and the installation of the shah.  They also talked about the sanctions as a wound. 

And then from our side, we talked about the hostage crisis, you know, which they interpreted for us a little bit being a defensive move.  They actually considered taking over the Russian embassy, but they decided once we took the shah in we might be trying to restore the dynasty, so then they switched to the U.S. embassy. 

They were quick to point out that none of the hostages were harmed, but – so both sides in a rather poignant moment acknowledged that our societies have wounded each other and we have deep-seeded reasons to be suspicious of the other and that we need to move beyond that history through some acknowledgment on both sides. 

MR. KIMBALL:  All right.  We’ve got a couple more questions.  Greg Thielmann and then Pierce Corden please, and then –

Q: Greg Thielmann, Arms Control Association.  It is hard for us Americans to understand the role of religion and how it’s balanced with the realpolitik in Iran.  I imagine it’s hard for the Iranian clerics to understand the role of religion in the U.S, and how it’s balanced with realpolitik. 

So I just wondered if – could you tell us how you would answer questions about what a predominantly Christian nation, a nation of churchgoers in comparison to the Europeans, how that nation could then have a nuclear policy of threatening the use of nuclear weapons, maintaining an enormous arsenal, and in the case of Iran, actually withholding a no first use pledge in Iranian contingencies. 

MR. KIMBALL:  Why don't we take the second question before we address them?  Thanks.

Q:  Pierce Corden with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  In your discussions about nuclear weapons, was there any specificity beyond the use of that term in the context of materials, in the context of ways of delivering a nuclear explosive to a distance – by that, I mean, ballistic missiles primarily – and of the involvement of other states in the Iranian nuclear industry?  You hear about the possible collaboration with the DPRK as an example. 

BISHOP PATES:  All right.  I’ll try to answer a little bit of the religious issue and then leave to our scientific experts some question. 

But the – I think for the religious question, you have the Bell Curve in the American religious experience – all the extraordinarily conservative extremes, I would say, on both sides of the spectrum and then you have a middle course.  And I think the middle course is perhaps what – the balance – the middle course is what we would advocate or try to advocate from the perspective of the U.S. American bishops and our relationships with other countries. 

But we are very definitely against – and so we could only speak from our perspective – and what I outlined a little bit before, you know, that the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII and then, I think, since then, our popes have emphasized that we are opposed to nuclear weapons, first of all, you know, that we may have been OK with them morally from a deterrence viewpoint, but we feel that that, now, also has been taken off the table and so that – our history is very clear developing and so, in that sense, it would coincide with the – you know, the Iranian or, I would say, the Shia position today. 

Now, we represent about – in the Church today, you know, at least in terms of identified Catholics – we don’t – I can’t say that they’re a solid force but, you know, 24 percent of the population – but that is our particular position and which, you know, going to Rome next week and, I think, speak directly about this and, you know, really looking at the U.S. utilization of nuclear arms and saying, would a much better investment be in development?  With – are we going to really have a much stronger defense of our values, our country, et cetera, if these dollars were invested in development as opposed to nuclear weapons?

So, from the position of the Church – the Catholic Church – it’s very clear, you know, where we stand and I think that there are many others who follow us but that religions have different viewpoints and that’s all we could share with our interlocutors – (inaudible). 

MR. COLECCHI:  No, I think that’s absolutely right, Bishop, and we have to – we had an – it was really interesting, when we arrived at the airport in Tehran, they wanted to welcome us and so they didn’t – they put us into the VIP lounge and the – and our guide from the – Qom would not allow us to be fingerprinted by the security – that’s a normal procedure, you get fingerprinted when you arrive, and it took about two hours of struggling back and forth, but the religion people won and we were not fingerprinted.  We enjoyed the VIP lounge, we were sipping on tea and then we finally got to our hotel room at an ungodly hour but – and I was just reflecting on how the influence of religion in our culture is so different, like, the likelihood that we can get them to bypass, in security, getting fingerprinted – rather unlikely. 

But let me just take on a little bit that thing about the specificity, Pierce.  Your question is a very good one and it has a very simple answer.  We’ve a – really a religious and moral dialogue, we did not get in to those kinds of technical questions.  The closest we got to technical questions was Dr. John Steinbruner really was able to push a couple of the Shia scholars on, so, here’s your religious teaching, what’s your strategic assessment?  And the two scholars that he was able to push on that, that were more in the political realm and so forth as scholars, as well as being religious scholars, they said, our strategic assessment is a nuclear weapon is not in Iran’s interest – that a weapon, first of all, was not a deterrent and it will simply invite attack – and so that they believe that there was a congruence between their religious teaching, which – the other thing to say about that is, Shia Islam is all about defense.  I mean, their whole history is one of persecution by a Sunni majority and – so their interpretation is that armed force is principally for defense, not for offense, and that’s why nuclear weapons are, you know – like, when the ayatollah was told, should we develop chemical weapons?  He says, no, we should be developing really good gas masks.  That was the answer. 

So no, we didn’t get into those – that kind of detail because it was a religious and moral dialogue, although we did have that sidebar conversation confirming that the strategic calculation matched the religious calculation. 

MR. KIMBALL:  All right.  I think we’ve got time for a couple more questions.  Let’s go to this gentleman in the purple tie in the middle and then Mr. Culp.

Q:  I’m Eric Arnett from the State Department.  Bishop Pates, when you summarized the fatwa, you gave the usual canonical ban on production, possession and use, but the logic you gave only supports a ban on use.  I’m wondering what logic – two part question – I wonder what the logic they gave for opposing production and possession?  And the second part of the question is, although that’s the canonical way of phrasing the – what the fatwa covers, President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif often also say that the fatwa prohibits development of nuclear weapons.  Did anybody discuss, mention the word development or discuss reasons why development would also be prohibited?

BISHOP PATES:  I think the answer to some of this might be that they are developing it for the utilization of fuel et cetera, and so that would – envision the production of a weapon.  That Rouhani – I’m sorry, he said –

Q:  (Off mic) – often when Rouhani and Zarif summarize the fatwa, they say that it also bans development, not just production, possession and use.  But they’re the only two that I’m aware of who have ever said development.  So the question is whether that’s a policy of theirs or that’s an overlooked part of the fatwa, that other people aren’t so focused on – (inaudible) –

BISHOP PATES:  Well, I think the – yeah, the – excuse me – thank you.  So Rouhani would say development is involved with the – their fatwa and that the policy of the country is – if I’m understanding you correctly –

Q:  (Off mic) just – when he said what’s covered by the – (inaudible) – he said development of nuclear weapons was also banned – (inaudible) –

BISHOP PATES:  Well, I think that there are the three characteristics:  development, stockpiling and utilization, that they would say is immoral.  That’s what we have been told and the fatwa, that’s what it covers, so he is representing the teaching as it stands today.  So perhaps it means that they’re – they are democratically elected, these are elected representative, really, and so the government is not just strictly the supreme leader exercising total political control, but it’s – you know, somewhat of a – they’re working together and so perhaps what their position, you know, their – that this would have the moral influence is actually being, you know, exemplified now by the – Rouhani and what he’s trying to do and I think move forward in the political arena.

So it’s not a simplistic sort of an idea of the government that there’s three factors, there’s the supreme leader from a moral perspective.  There’s also the government and then the Revolutionary Guard, which are involved in this, also, which place the supreme leader in the position that he has.  So all of these factors have to be gradually integrated to understand fully the complexities of their government, you know.  So we’re learning more about that all the time and I think this dialogue helps us just like it helps them understand who we are and, you know, how we function and operate.

MR. KIMBALL:  Steve, do you want to provide some more insights on this?

MR. COLECCHI:  The only thing I would add is that production, stockpiling and use were clearly identified.  Development was also talked about and, clearly, is included because the – what makes it morally problematic is the actual killing, of course, of innocent people, right, but you also cannot intend to do that.  And that’s what deterrence requires; that’s why deterrence doesn’t have a moral standing – a permanent moral standing in the – in the Catholic Church, that we have to move beyond deterrence, we have to use deterrence as only a step toward disarmament because the intent to inflict massive casualties on civilian populations is inherently evil.  In the – in the Catholic tradition we would say intrinsically evil; under no circumstances can it be justified.  So that’s the use, but the intent to do it is also problematic, morally.  So the development of nuclear weapons technology, which would then precede production stockpiling – I just think we’re – I think, actually, at that point, we’re just splitting hairs.  That, clearly, is – would not be within the understanding that the Shia scholars or the ayatollahs would have regarding the fatwa.  They are insistent, repeatedly, that the only development that they are interested in is for peaceful nuclear uses.

MR. MOHSENI:  And it’s also important to – I don’t know if you guys have seen the joint declaration – you know, part of that – it, you know, emphasizes – and I would want to actually read it, and it says – yeah – that – it says –

MR. :  This is the joint declaration, dated –

MR. MOHSENI:  Yeah, this is a joint declaration, dated June 14th, between the Catholic bishops and the Shia scholars and says that, “Shia Islam opposes and forbids the production, stockpiling, use and threat to use weapons of mass destruction.”  So it basically covers the whole – the whole range of the activities. 


MR. COLECCHI:  Well – but – I mean, I – to be honest, I have to – I’ll just be honest with you, that is precisely the – that brushes aside a whole religious tradition and trajectory.  It’s looking for the loophole and I don’t think that they’re looking for a loophole, that – I do not believe that is the case because to develop the capability of having such weapons would be the threat to use because the only reason why you would develop them is so – but then you can threaten that we could get one and then we could use one.  And all of that is haram.  It’s forbidden. 

MR. KIMBALL:  OK, I think we’ve got time for a couple more questions.  Mr. Culp in the middle, please.

Q:  David Culp with the Quakers.  Bishop Pates, I want to thank you and the Catholic bishops for longtime leadership on these issues, and in particular Steve Colecchi. 

When you go to Rome next week, I would encourage you to urge the pope to think about issuing a statement – which the rumor mill is that he’s working on a statement on nuclear weapons – and encourage them to go bold.  I think there’s a lot of support way beyond the Catholic Church for new leadership, way beyond 24 percent. 

And a lot of high hopes in this country and also, I hear, from Europe.  There’s lots of people waiting for this statement from the pope on nuclear weapons.  So encourage them to go bold, go big.  And I think there’s still a lot of support way beyond the Catholic Church for that kind of a statement. 

MR. KIMBALL:  OK, why don’t we take these last two questions here and then we’ll close things out.

Q:  Another quick question.  You keep talking about how the ayatollahs believe very firmly in the fatwa that was issued and that nuclear development, stockpiling weapons, all of it is forbidden.  So what explains the disconnect between those very firmly held beliefs and the policy that the country is showing the rest of the world in these negotiations?  If they believe that so firmly, why are they having such a hard time conveying it to the rest of the world?

MR. COLECCHI:  Or maybe the rest of the world is having a hard time understanding where they’re at.  There is – the shadow is that earlier on, during the Iran-Iraq War, there was a move to develop – there were research put in place for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.  That was very much earlier on in their history before the fatwa was issued.  And when the fatwa was issued, then those programs were phased out. 

And so I think the world, when they see other enrichment activity and the development of a peaceful nuclear program, have some evidence that there was this other trajectory earlier on.  And I think that’s what the real disconnect is.  I mean, you know, they’ve been compliant during the interim agreement with transparency measures and so forth.  They submit to transparency measures that are – I mean, I don’t want to be an apologist for the Iranian regime.  It’s appropriate for the world to ask tough questions and to expect a transparency that is required under the NPT. 

That’s really important, but I think the reason why they’re having a difficult time convincing the rest of the world is based on historical reasons and based on a caricature both that they have of us and we have of them that gets in the way of – that undermines the trust that’s needed to reach a resolution.

BISHOP PATES:  I think there’s perhaps a growing understanding too – it’s evolutionary in nature – that if Rouhani is saying some of these things directly as a political leader, which necessarily we haven’t heard before, that there seems to be a confluence of both religious moral perspectives taking shape at this point in time. 

It’s our own evolutionary understanding how we explain that, you know, the church accepted deterrence as an explanation for nuclear development.  Today we don’t accept that.  It’s a moving kind of evolutionary understanding,  And I think that it’s through dialogue, understanding, and reaching hard conclusions that this is where they’re at that will really achieve what we want to achieve.  So I think that’s what the pope is trying to say. 

We have to have encounter.  We can’t say this is forever, you know, that the encounter dialogue and hopefully relationship will lead forth.  I think that only, within that bilateral relationship, would have a great deal to do with the Middle East, because that’s problematic, you know, with all – Iran’s position, Hamas, all those other situations that we’re talking about.  Perhaps we can begin to unpack those two and have Middle East, and see if we can move in a direction.  So it has implications, I think, for the direct nuclear issues, but I think it goes beyond that in terms of relationship in the whole Middle East and how we deal with that. 

We just returned from a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine with 18 bishops.  So we see the relationship there too.  It’s all kind of interconnected.  So, you know, to say that they – is that a firm stand forever?  Perhaps it’s been portrayed that way but we did not get the feeling that we – that we can now move forward, and so we have to be open and continue the discussions. 

MR. KIMBALL:  Just one other additional perspective in response to your question about why it’s difficult for Iran to convince the world that they’re not pursing nuclear weapons.  I mean, technically speaking the same technologies necessary to produce fuel for nuclear power reactors is the same basic technology necessary to enrich uranium to weapons-grade for weapons.  And so, I mean, Iran is at the point where they can – with their 10,200 operating centrifuges, they could theoretically produce a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium within a matter of a few months. 

So given – and I think given where Iran is in the region, given the history, there is – there is distrust and there is the accusation that – and I think credible evidence – that experiments were conducted over a decade ago that have nuclear weapons applications.  How that fits into this fatwa I don’t think anyone on this panel can answer.  You know, how every individual in the Iranian program acted in connection with the fatwa is impossible to answer. 

Let me just also say that I don’t think that Iran is going to – Iran’s leaders are going to admit that they – their scientists were engaged in work relating to the development of nuclear weapons or the production of nuclear weapons certainly.  And even if they were to do so, I don’t think that would achieve too much, because if they did – if they were involved in those experiments they still have the knowledge.  Admitting it isn’t going to necessarily erase it.

What matters is building around this framework that the fatwa I think helps to reinforce, that Iran will not be pursuing nuclear weapons in the future, building a system of monitoring and verification that ensures that they don’t violate the restrictions that could very well be negotiated in the next few weeks to limit their nuclear program to something that is commensurate with their nuclear energy needs.

So, you know, that’s a long explanation but I think, you know, there are a lot of reasons why there is this distrust, but there is – the important thing is that there is a way to overcome it with time and partly with this dialogue that we’ve heard about today, with the teachings that Shia Islam has on this subject.  And I think what you all are doing is very important and I think it’s cast – it’s provided some information on another aspect of this issue that has not been explored very much over the course of the last few years as we deal with the relations between the U.S. and Iran. 

So we are out of time for today.  I want to thank each of our speakers.  And I want to thank the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for cooperating with us.  And we look forward to further discussions on this in the future.  Thanks.  (Applause.)