Bishop Cantu calls for diplomacy to ease U.S.-North Korea differences

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — Diplomacy and political engagement are necessary to resolve the
differences between the United States and North Korea and avoid a military
conflict, the chairman of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee said
in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Aug. 10, Bishop Oscar Cantu of
Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International
Justice and Peace, echoed a recent call from the Korean bishops’
conference to support talks to secure the peaceful future of the Korean Peninsula.

Cantu acknowledged that the escalating threat of violence from North Korea’s
leaders cannot be “underestimated or ignored,” but that the
“high certainty of catastrophic death and destruction from any military
action must prompt the United States to work with others in the international
community for a diplomatic and political solution based on dialogue.”

letter follows days of back-and-forth threats between President Donald Trump
and North Korea’s leader, Kim
Jong Un. Trump has threatened to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen”
in response to Kim’s warnings of imminent attacks on the U.S. Meanwhile, Kim
has said his country was preparing to fire missiles into waters around Guam, a
U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean with two military bases.

angry talk between the leaders has escalated since the Aug. 5 passage at the
United Nations of new economic sanctions threatening to cut off a third of North Korea’s exports. Russia and China, two of Pyongyang’s few economic trading partners,
supported the sanctions. The Association
of Southeast Asian Nations also adopted a statement expressing
“grave concern” over North Korea’s actions related to the development of nuclear
weapons and missile delivery systems.

Bishop Cantu’s letter
said his committee agreed with the stance of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference
of Korea in its support for South
Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal for humanitarian and military
talks with North Korea.

“In solidarity
with the Catholic Church in Korea and the efforts of the South Korean
government, we urge the United States to encourage and support these
talks,” Bishop Cantu wrote. “This avenue, unlike most others, offers
the Korean Peninsula a future free from military conflicts or crises, which
could simultaneously threaten entire nations and millions of lives in the

A former Vatican
diplomat supported such talks.

In an
interview with Vatican Radio Aug. 9, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, former Vatican representative to
U.N. agencies in Geneva, said that “instead of building walls and creating
dissidence or admitting the possibility of recourse to violence,” both
countries must have a constructive approach that benefits the people.

A former member of the
U.N. Panel of
Experts tasked with monitoring and implementing North Korea sanctions also
called for calm and a negotiated solution to the differences between the two

George A. Lopez, chair
emeritus of peace studies at the
University of Notre Dame, told Catholic News Service Aug. 10 the interests of
both countries can be addressed at the negotiating table.

“We need
somebody to talk about what are the underlying security needs of both North Korea
and the United States and is there a forum to talk about that,” Lopez said.
“If the U.S. issued a simple pledge that we seek no first use against North
Koreans, we seek some way to bargain this out, you’d get some response to

Asian nations want
stability rather than uncertainty and that will require that talks get underway
to assure the peaceful co-existence of both countries, Lopez said. “So how
do we get there?” he asked.

Cantu’s letter reminded Tillerson that “this crisis reminds us that
nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction do not ensure security or
peace. Instead, they exacerbate tensions and produce and arms races as
countries acquire more weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to intimidate
or threaten other nations.”

The bishop also cited a call in July by agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops for all
nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military

joint declaration released by the USCCB and the Conference of European Justice and
Peace Commissions called upon the U.S. and European nations to work with
other nations to “map out a credible, verifiable and enforceable strategy
for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Cantu and Archbishop
Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, conference president, signed the statement.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax
Christi International, the Catholic peace organization, told CNS the organization was praying that both nations would step away
from potential confrontation. She said Aug. 9 Pax Christi expected to release
a statement on the situation within days.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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