Norwegian head of world church body seeks interfaith peace talks

GENEVA – Norwegian theologian Olav Fykse Tveit, who heads the World Council of Churches, is seeking to get Christian and Muslim organizations from Syria, Russia, the United States and European nations to help bring about a peace settlement for Syria. Peter Kenny, the editor-in-chief of Ecumenical News, says that Tveit told journalists on September 19, « We plan to have parallel consultations when the Geneva II meeting happens, so we can mobilize both church leaders and other religious leaders for a commitment to a peace process in Syria. »
Tveit is the secretary general of the WCC, the Geneva-based world church body that brings together some 560 million Christians from Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant churches around the globe. A Lutheran who trained at the Norwegian School of Theology, Tveit and served as an army chaplain when he did his compulsory military service in 1987.
He was asked if Muslim clerics from inside Syria would be present and he said, « We’ll see what’s possible. But of course we’ll invite them, and other major Muslim partners, who come from the opposition of course, but also from neighbouring countries. »
Tveit, who took up his job in Geneva in January 2010 said, « In the last two weeks we have seen what we have not seen before. All kinds of church leaders from all around made efforts to argue against an attack On Syria. The world also called for new initiatives for a political process. « There is no military solution to Syria. « Now is the time to say everyone has failed and there has to be a change and that change has to include all parties and that includes the president [of Syria], » said Tveit.
The Geneva 2 Middle East peace conference (or Geneva 2) is the name given to a proposed United Nations-backed peace conference that would take place in Geneva in late 2013. Its aim is to halt the Syrian civil war which has raged for more than two years and seeks to and organize a transition period and post-war reconstruction.
In a previous Geneva meeting on June 30, 2012, major global powers agreed on the principle of a political transition, but failed to stop the war.
The key aim of Geneva 2 would be to get all parties to agree on the principle of a political solution, and then build on a peace plan put forward by former U.N. Security Council secretary general, Kofi Annan at a June 2012 meeting.
Church leaders from Syria, Russia, the United States and European nations who met near Geneva on September 18 called a political solution the only way towards peace in Syria. Their stance was shared in a statement they issued following their meeting with Kofi Annan, former United Nations general secretary, and Lakhdar Brahimi, UN-Arab League joint representative for Syria. The meeting was held on Wednesday organized by the WCC at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland, where participants discussed the role of the churches in effectively moving all parties in Syria towards a peace agreement.
Tveit, who moderated the meeting, said, « The Geneva 2 conference must not fail now when thousands of people have already died. » He said that all parties, inside and outside Syria, and the U.N. Security Council have to take their responsibility to make the talks work, and churches must support this process. He added that since the Geneva 1 conference resulted in little or no progress, the urgency of the upcoming Geneva 2 was more crucial than ever.
Annan and Brahimi suggested he call a meeting of faith leaders to parallel Geneva 2.
A statement issued at the end of the meeting said, « Churches must continue to raise their voice in their congregations, in their societies and with their governments. We must strengthen the public outcry so that those in power will protect the common interest of humanity. »