Ecumenical church leaders discuss Iraq with Tony Blair

 An ecumenical delegation of church leaders met yesterday with Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development and UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to convey a message of deep concern about the looming war with Iraq. At a press conference following the meetings a considerable amount was said in support of Tony Blair's responses to many of the issues that had beenraised. The Rev Jim Wallis, editor and executive director of Sojourners in Washington DC, has already met with government officials from several countries, including France, Italy and Russia. He described the meeting with Tony Blair as a crucial step towards promoting "collective international efforts" when it comes to resolving situations such as the currentconflict with Iraq. He saidL "The British government is in a better position to shape the decision, more so than any other leaders in the world." The Rt Revd John Chane, Bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC, reiterated Rev Wallis' remarks saying that Tony Blair is a key person in resolving the issue and that they had not been able to engage in similar conversations with the Bush administration. In South Africa, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town said that there are thousands protesting on the streets, as "the repercussions of war in Iraq would influence the distribution of resources to Africa." This, in turn, would have an adverse affect on poverty and the critical HIV/AIDS crisis throughout the continent. The discussion was not only limited to Iraq; anxieties were also mentioned about the continuing hostilities between Israel and Palestine. The Rt Rev Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, said that the war in the Middle East is viewed as "another crusade" and that "if we don't address the cause then it could be catastrophic to the faithful flock throughout the entire region." When asked whether the delegation would support a war if the UN emerged with a resolution allowing disarmament by force, the Anglican Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Price, responded, "It is a very thorny question. What we are attempting to do is offer as many peaceful alternatives as we can in order to avoid that outcome." It was evident that the US members of the delegation had much faith in Tony Blair's response and it was apparent to them that without his constant interaction with the Bush administration, "things could certainly be a great deal worse." source: Anglican Communion

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