One incident remains heavy on the minds of Iranians, much as the events of 9/11 are still in the memories of Americans. On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes, a U.S. guided missile cruiser, used two radar guided missiles to shoot down an Iranian civilian passenger aircraft, Iran Air flight 655, that had taken off from the coastal city of Bandar Abbas, Iran. The flight was still climbing on its regularly scheduled flight to Dubai when it was blown to pieces by the U.S. missiles. Iran Air flight 655 was still in Iranian airspace, on its prescribed routine daily flight route on established air lanes, emitting by radio the standard commercial identifying data when the missiles struck. 290 passengers and crew, including 66 children, were killed by the U.S. military action.
Earlier in the day on July 3, 1988, the captain of the USS Vincennes, Captain Will Rogers III, had sunk in Iranian waters, two Iranian gunboats and damaged a third. Captain David Carlson of the U.S. Navy frigate "Sides" that was also on patrol in the Persian Gulf, later told investigators that the destruction of the airliner by the missiles of the USS Vincennes "marked the horrifying climax to Rogers' aggressiveness." Incredibly, in 1990, Captain Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit decoration "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989." The citation made no mention of the shoot-down of Iran Air 655.
Vice President George H.W. Bush argued at the United Nations that the US attack on Iranian Airbus flight 655 had been a wartime incident and that the crew had acted appropriately to the situation at the time. He famously and tragically said: "I'll never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don't care what the facts are." It was not till 1996 that the US agreed to a $132 million out of court in settlement in a case brought by Iran in 1989 against the U.S. in the International Court of Justice. The U.S. paid additional compensation for the 38 non-Iranian deaths.
While the Vice President of the United States would not make an apology to the people of Iran, our delegation did.
Barbara Briggs-Letson, a member of our delegation, created a beautiful book with our heartfelt remorse for the deaths of the 290 persons on Iran Air flight 655. The book contains several poems and the name of each person on the flight written in Farsi. We showed the book to Foreign Minister Zarif during our meeting with him and he was very moved by our gesture. A few days later, we gave the book to the Tehran Peace Museum where it will be on permanent display.
The effect of U.S. sanctions on Iran, particularly in the medical field, were brought home to us vividly by the stories of persons who told of family members who have died because they were unable to get proper treatment with the most efficient drugs due to sanctions. Dialysis patients who could be helped by state of the art equipment from Europe or the U.S. are denied that equipment by the sanctions. The financial sanctions block purchase of medicines and medical equipment. Insurance companies in the U.S. and Europe are blocked from paying directly to hospitals medical bills of citizens who need emergency medical care.
While in Iran, a member of our delegation had chest pains and was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with heart artery blockage. His family in the U.S., the medical doctor in Iran and a medical doctor on our delegation recommended that he not try to return to the U.S. without determining the extent of blockage and that he have an angioplasty procedure in Iran. The angioplasty showed dangerous blockage of three arteries. Stents made in the United States were placed in his arteries during the angioplasty procedure to open up the arteries. He would not have been able to travel safely back to the U.S. without the stents.
When the family and the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy contacted the delegate's insurance carrier Kaiser Permanente, they were told that due to the sanctions, the insurance company could not pay the Iranian hospital directly, but the delegate could be reimbursed after his return to the United States. Interestingly, the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland gave a loan to our delegate through the U.S. Interests section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to pay for the medical procedure. The delegate will reimburse the U.S. government when his Kaiser Permanente reimburses him in the United States.