Ethan Vesely-Flad on March 5, 2009

Today's news from Capitol Hill highlights an issue of deep concern to those who seek to build stronger relationships between the United States and Iran. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) submitted a proposed amendment to a bill on an omnibus appropriations bill in the Senate. The amendment would prohibit all U.S. agencies from doing business with companies with any business ties to Iran's energy sector. The Friends Committee on National Legislation argued in a summary of a letter that FCNL faxed to every U.S. senator last night:

"Taking action to further cripple Iran's already taxed energy sector punishes the Iranian peopl. More hostile and draconian sanctions undermine the potential for a diplomatic solution to Iran's contested nuclear program and other peace and security concerns."

Nationalistic flag-waving is often an issue in our own country, but we are not alone. Bill Gillen, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation's ninth delegation to Iran, which returned to the U.S. this Tuesday, sent the following reflection on the trip:

When you visit a foreign country, especially one with world-famous historic and religious sites, you often see the flags of many countries, including that of the United States, flying in public places. But not in Iran. No, not at tourist hotels or anywhere else. Yet everywhere you go people are friendly and tell you how much they like Americans. Many of them have relatives in the United States, they say.

The one U.S. flag our peace delegation saw in our 12-day trip throughout Iran was a small one on a conference table in a temporary office of the Tehran Peace Museum, where we met with its staff and some volunteers. The other flags displayed on that table were those of the United Nations (did you know that the United States and Iran joined the U.N. on the same day in October 1945?) and Japan, a country whose own peace museum inspired Tehran's.

The museum grew out of the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support, an NGO established in 2002 to help the survivors of the attacks by Iraqi forces during the eight-year war between the two countries. A majority of the society members are victims of those chemical attacks. On the day we visited there was an evident feeling of sadness; one member and active volunteer had died that day of his war-related injuries. Now the veterans have decided that peace education will be the focus of the museum undergoing renovation in a historic city park. It's expected to open this summer.

The Tehran museum has a close connection with Japanese survivors of the U.S. atomic bomb attacks at the end of World War II and was founded after a visit in 2004 to the Hiroshima Peace Museum. The survivors of the horrors of war in both countries have turned their attention not to revenge but to the need for seeking peace. In the words of one veteran we met, "We were victimized by war and want peace." A second vet, who was injured at age 15 in 1982, said, "Once we had to defend our country. Now our job is to promote peace."

They want to share with younger people their experiences and how war has affected their lives. They told us it's not easy to speak about the effects of their injuries, both physical and social, on themselves and their families. The government estimates that more than 500,000 Iranians, war veterans and civilians both, still suffer from war injuries, including tens of thousands with long-term health effects from exposure to chemical weapons.

The Iranians want to bring their message about the horrors of war to a wider audience, to Western nations. In May 2008 a group of two veterans and two doctors toured the United States. The group Physicians for Social Responsibility sponsored them. "We reached a wide audience, scientists, universities, churches," said Dr. Shahriar Khateri, director of the museum. "We consider the trip a success in reaching the American public."