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Cardinal McCarrick: Why we can applaud the Iran deal in good faith

In this Jan. 14, 2015 picture, Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listens to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as they walk in the city of Geneva during a bilateral meeting ahead of nuclear discussions. (Martial Trezzini/AP)
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This opinion piece is by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who was involved in helping free American hikers from Iran in 2011. He served as Archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006.

There are many stories about the late Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, a long-serving secretary of state to Pope John Paul II. Although in modern times, the Holy See has been blessed with many gifted statesmen, Casaroli was recognized as one of the greatest Vatican diplomats of his time. One day, as the story goes, a friend asked him to list the three most important characteristics of a successful diplomat. Without a moment’s hesitation the Cardinal replied, “Patience, patience and more patience.” This special insight was probably the key to his diplomatic success.

It is therefore no surprise that the negotiations to arrive at the final and delicate conclusion to the long discussions between the P5+1 countries and Iran over its nuclear program took time and patience. There are reports of arduous deliberations over almost every word in the agreement. It was indeed an extraordinary process of dialogue, but perhaps it will be most notable for the patience it required. This patience indicated an enormous desire to find the right answers and, in so doing, to have an important and historic impact, not only on the Middle East, but in a larger sense on the direction of the modern world.

We truly have reason to compliment Secretary of State John Kerry. In the immediate wake of his long and heroic, but ultimately unsuccessful, efforts to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, Kerry entered into this new marathon. Fortunately, the P5+1 nations and Iran seemed truly dedicated to coming to a concrete solution.

My own personal interest in this matter goes back several years. Bishop John Chane, the former Episcopal Bishop of Washington, and I were privileged to help bring back home to their families the young American hikers who had been detained in Iran. In subsequent visits to that country, Bishop Chane and I came to know several of the religious leaders of that country and to respect their knowledge and integrity.

Pope Francis himself let us know very clearly of his own tremendous concern for a peaceful and equitable resolution. In January 2015, we heard the Pontiff say, “I expressed my hope that a definitive agreement may soon be reached between Iran and the P5+1 group.”

The Catholic community in the United States likewise has been vocal in their hope for a firm resolution to this difficult problem. The Church has struggled over many years to provide guidance and support for nuclear disarmament and to ensure that nuclear energy is only used for peaceful purposes. It was Saint John XXIII who, back in 1963, in his encyclical Pacem in Terris, called for a ban on nuclear weapons. At every turn, the Church has applauded the efforts already made in this regard.

I applaud the fact that a major issue of dispute in this very volatile region was resolved through negotiation and not armed conflict.

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called this a “momentous agreement” and a “significant achievement (that) aims to curb Iran’s development of nuclear weapons while allowing them to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

One of the important religious and moral teachings that surely had a direct bearing on the P5+1 negotiations was a Fatwa of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that should definitely be carefully studied and considered. He declared the possession and use of nuclear weapons as incompatible with Islam, a teaching not dissimilar to the Catholic position that the world must rid itself of these indiscriminate weapons.

As we see the start of a new relationship with Iran, one of the most important Muslim majority countries, we must take the long view of total nuclear disarmament. As the present agreement is clarified and implemented over the coming months and the years, we must never lose sight of our ultimate goal — a world without nuclear weapons, a world totally free from these weapons of mass destruction.

Many of our American leaders espouse this goal and many of our religious bodies support it based on the teachings and demands of our own faiths. History calls us to take further steps toward a world without nuclear weapons.

This is a beginning – a good beginning. It is now for us to build upon it, to be determined to make our world and future generations safe, secure and ready to accept the call that all world religions share: the need to protect one another.

The Holy See viewed this agreement in “positive light,” saying, “It constitutes an important outcome of the negotiations carried out so far, although continued efforts and commitment on the part of all involved will be necessary in order for it to bear fruit.… It is hoped that those fruits will not be limited to the field of nuclear programme, but may indeed extend further.”

Pope Francis in his message to a December 2014 conference in Vienna spoke about nuclear deterrence and said, “Now is the time to counter the logic of fear with the ethic of responsibility, and so foster a climate of trust and sincere dialogue.”

What an enormous possibility! Thank God we have not let this chance go by.

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