Iranians we met were open about the effect of the latest stringent U.S. sanctions on their daily life. The U.S sponsored closing of Iran's access to the international financial system means that ordinary businesses have less access to funds to purchase goods. Apps on mobile phones for paying bills or arranging for car-shares rides, no longer function. Marriages are postponed as families do not have sufficient money for the obligatory dowries and wedding celebrations. Purchases of big-ticket items of everything from refrigerators to cars are delayed due to the hyper-inflation of the rial, Iranian currency.
From the Foreign Minister to the ordinary Iranians we met, all reminded us with great pride of the 2,500-year history of their country. Many spoke of the pressures from neighboring countries and destructive wars waged by neighbors and by countries from afar -- the United States, Britain and Russia.
A map of the region provides one with a glimpse of Iran's foreign policy and national security challenges and headaches. Iran has seven countries that are its direct neighbors -- Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Armenia. Seven other countries are located within 100 miles -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen, and three more countries lie within 300 miles -- Georgia, Russia and Uzbekistan.
In contrast, only Canada and Mexico directly border the U.S. and its possessions and only a few countries are within 100 miles -- the Bahamas, Cuba and Russia across the Bering Sea to which we were famously reminded by the Alaska geography expert Sarah Palin, "I can see Russia from here."
In the past 25 years, from the 1991 Gulf War onwards, the U.S. been involved in military conflict in six of the countries surrounding Iran: Kuwait, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Hundreds of thousands have died from U.S. military wars in the region. Two million Iraqis and three million Syrians have fled their countries from U.S. sponsored violence and are now refugees in other countries in the region.
From 1980 to 1988, the U.S. supported Iraq with intelligence and chemical weapons in its horrific eight-year war on Iran which began one year after the Iranian revolution overthrew the U.S. backed government of the Shah of Iran. The Shah had come to power as a result of the U.S. orchestrated overthrow of the elected President of Iran in 1953.
On the way from Tehran to Isfahan, we were asked to visit the massive cemetery outside of Tehran of the graves of tens of thousands of Iranians killed during the Iraqi war on Iran. It is estimated that one million Iranians died in defending their country from the Iraqi attacks and that between 250,000-500,000 Iraqis died. The road leading to the cemetery has flower stands along the route for visitors to arrive with flowers to place on the graves. Thousands of Iranians visit the cemetery each day. We spoke with one older woman who said she comes to the cemetery each day as all of her sons are buried here. The entire country including very young kids were mobilized to stop the Iraqi invasion of Iran.
The cemetery is the equivalent of Arlington National cemetery outside of Washington, DC where many international guests visit to see the history of the United States through the graves of those who were killed in the many U.S. wars.
A map of U.S. military bases surrounding Iran provides a visual demonstration of the military threat the Iranian government faces from the U.S. U.S. combat aircraft and drones fly daily from U.S. air bases in the region. Not shown on the map are the fleet of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships that since the 1970s have had a permanent presence in the waters off the coast of Iran in the Persian Gulf.