WASHINGTON – Although “the prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons is unacceptable,” the U.S. government must exhaust every option before considering military action to resolve the situation, the chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on International Policy told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“The use of force must always be a last resort,” Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., said in a letter to Rice made public Nov. 9.
“In addition, the failure to be transparent about one’s nuclear energy program is not grounds for military intervention, nor is the possession of nuclear weapons or the issuing of bellicose statements,” he added.
But Bishop Wenski noted that the Iranian government “continues to ignore its international responsibilities” regarding nuclear weapons. “Such resistance undermines the stability of the region and the pursuit of nuclear nonproliferation,” he said.
In U.S. efforts to ensure Iran’s compliance with international law in developing its nuclear energy program, “dialogue is essential,” the bishop said. “It is not a reward for good behavior, but rather is a means to achieve important ends.”
The bishop offered several suggestions that the U.S. government should consider before exploring military options.
“For example, the United States could consider offering security guarantees that it will not attack Iran,” he said. “In coordination with other nuclear powers, it could supply Iran with nuclear fuel for peaceful uses, and could consider opening up more economic opportunities in the world economy for Iran.”
If economic sanctions are imposed, they “should be carefully targeted so as not to impact the most vulnerable civilians,” Bishop Wenski said.
“From a practical standpoint, the use of sanctions ought to be continuously evaluated for their effectiveness and impact, e.g., the possibility that sanctions will strengthen public support for the current regime in Iran,” he added.
Similarly, “actual or threatened military strikes are likely to strengthen the regime in power in Iran and would further marginalize those in Iran who want to abide by international norms,” Bishop Wenski said.
“Emphasizing the military option sows doubts about the seriousness of our nation’s commitment to negotiations in the minds of Iranians and allies alike.”
The U.S. experience in Iraq has taught that “the use of force can have unintended consequences,” he added.
Bishop Wenski praised Rice for her earlier statement that the United States and other nations “remain fully committed to a diplomatic solution with Iran.”
“For the sake of our nation and the world, I pray that efforts by you and others to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation will be successful,” he added.