Sanctions were a topic of discussion when we had the opportunity to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. In a 90-minute talk on the first morning our delegation was in Tehran, Zarif reminded us that that Iran's 80 million people have lived for the past 40 years under some level of U.S. sanctions. U.S. sanctions on Iran began soon after the 1979 revolution and the student seizure of the U.S. Embassy and holding of 52 U.S. diplomats for 444 days.
Foreign Minister Zarif explained to our Peace Delegation:
"...the U.S. difficulty with Iran is not because of the region, not because of human rights, not because of weapons, not because of the nuclear issue it's just because we decided to be independent. That's it -- that's our biggest crime. Iranians are resilient people who will resist the arbitrary actions of the Trump administration in dumping the nuclear agreement and intimidating European partners from honoring the commitments of the agreement to loosening sanctions."
Bombastic threats from President Trump and long-time Iran foe John Bolton do not scare the Iranian government, nor the Iranian people. Zarif said that Iran had worked with the United States in the days after 9/11 to provide information on the Taliban, al Qaeda and other groups in Afghanistan. Iranian cooperation was "rewarded" three months later by the Bush administration, no doubt led by John Bolton, by being placed on Bush's Axis of Evil list-Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
Zarif reminded us that the U.S. spends over 670 billion dollars on defense while China spends 220 billion dollars. Saudi Arabia spends over 69.4 billion, even more than Russia's 63 billion dollars for its defense. He said that Iran spent 16 billion dollars last year on the entire military budget including salaries, equipment procurement, and retirement funds, (note: some analysts believe that the Iran military budget may be closer to 30 billion annually). He added that "Saudi Arabia spends sixty-seven billion dollars just buying weapons from the U.S. Last year, the West sold 100 billion dollars of weaponry to GCC countries these small emirates in the Persian Gulf. The entire population of these countries, I don't think would reach forty million. A hundred billion dollars in weapons. I don't, I don't believe with all due respect they know how to use them. Because they have not been able to defeat basically defenseless people in Yemen. For four years. The war in Yemen, this April, will be four-years- old."
Zarif also spoke of his efforts with the U.S. in 2015 to broker a ceasefire to stop the brutal Saudi bombing and blockade on Yemen and when the Saudis after first agreeing to a ceasefire, they backed out of the agreement, yet the United States blamed Iran, not Saudi Arabia.