In June of 2003, ICRD President Douglas Johnston visited Iran as part of an Abrahamic delegation under the leadership of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then Achbishop of Washington (and a member of ICRD’s Advisory Council). The delegation visited a number of different Iranian cities and spent considerable time in discussions with high-level government officials, religious leaders, and esteemed scholars.
In July of 2004, ICRD orchestrated a meeting on Capitol Hill for Senators and Congressmen centered around presentations by Ahmad Iravani, an Iranian Ayatollah who facilitated ICRD’s trip to Iran the previous summer, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The goal of the meeting was to make people aware of the opportunities that exist, especially through religious channels, to improve relations between Iran and the United States. Clearly U.S. policy options in the region, particularly with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan, would be significantly enhanced were both sides able to take advantage of these opportunities. The session evoked considerable interest.
In April of 2005, ICRD sponsored a reciprocal visit of Iranian Religious Leaders and Scholars to the United States. The Iranian delegation, like the U.S. delegation to Iran in June of 2003, was nine in number and included representation from each of the three Abrahamic faiths: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. In addition to visiting a number of Islamic centers (both Shi’ah and Sunni) and various places of worship, the delegates met and interacted with a number of high-level U.S. officials, university scholars, and think tank personnel.
In April of 2006, ICRD’s president Doug Johnston participated in an academic exchange in Rome under the auspices of Catholic University of America and the Norweigian International Peace Research Institute that involved Iranian, American, and Norwegian scholars. In some respects, it represented a natural extension of the discussions ICRD had with Iranian religious and political leaders during their trip to Washington the previous April. The dialogue was excellent and made all the more meaningful by the personal encouragement of the Pope.
In October of 2007, Dr. Johnston had the opportunity to present a “peace game” proposal to President Ahmadinejad at a dinner in New York. The President liked the idea and pledged his support. Very briefly, this concept can be viewed as the peace counterpart to a war game; but rather than a scenario-driven exercise, it would be more akin to a facilitated brainstorming session. Logistically, it will involve bringing participants from Iran and the United States together to chart a mutually acceptable course for achieving a cooperative relationship. Among the reasons for pursuing such a relationship are our overlapping interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. U.S. policy options for bringing peace to the region will also be greatly enhanced if we are able to overcome our existing differences relating to terrorism and the nuclear question. Several years ago, ICRD took a hard look at the individual obstacles standing in the way of improved relations, and came away convinced there is more room to maneuver on these issues than meets the eye.
Participants for the game would be chosen from the ranks of respected political, religious, academic and professional figures who are known to be spiritually-minded and who are not in government. However, they will be people of stature who will command serious consideration by their governments. A world-class expert on negotiations will facilitate the game, and the final recommendations will be presented to both governments for appropriate consideration.