We knew that taking a CODEPINK: Women for Peace delegation to Iran would fall in the crosshairs of the Trump Administration. Trump's animosity toward the Iranian government and the Obama administration during his campaign was characterized by his slogan for the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the "worst deal ever." The slogan, not the evidence from the IAEA that Iran was complying with the terms of the agreement, became the rationale for one of his first actions upon becoming President -- pulling the U.S. out of the nuclear agreement and imposing brutal sanctions on the people of Iran. These sanctions have resulted in the plummeting of the purchasing power of the national currency by two-thirds. We knew that U.S citizens going to Iran to talk with Iranians about the impact of the sanctions would not be popular with the Trump administration.
Despite the Iranian government issuing visas to our delegation, we knew the delegation would also be under scrutiny by Iranian government officials while we were there. American journalists, IT professionals, retired UN officials and retired and former US government officials have been imprisoned.
Despite these considerations, we endure the suspicions of both governments to travel as citizen diplomats to areas of the world where our government does not want us to see the effects of U.S. government policies on the lives of the citizens of targeted countries.
As citizen diplomats, we have been labeled as "naïve tools of repressive governments" when we visited Iran, North Korea, Gaza, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, countries where U.S. interference, invasion, occupation or support for other countries' wars, have made life miserable and dangerous for their citizens. We came back from those countries with stories of encounters with ordinary citizens who are concerned about the future of their children, their health and education under difficult circumstances caused by military conflict or by sanctions, sanctions that are touted as a humane substitute for military conflict to resolve whatever political disagreement is occurring between the U.S. and the particular country.
The knives of journalists and pundits were out for Women Cross the DMZ in 2015 when we -- 30 women from 15 countries including two Nobel Peace Laureates, returned from North Korea after having a peace conference with 250 North Korean women and peace marches with 5,000 women in Pyongyang and 2,000 women in Kaesong.
The label of anti-semitism was thrown at us when we visited Israeli-blockaded Gaza and witnessed the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank" and dared to speak and write about them. We were called the tool of the Pakistani Taliban when we talked with families of civilians assassinated by U.S. drones in the border area of Pakistan-Afghanistan.
The meeting our delegation had with the Foreign Minister of Iran has already provoked harsh words from U.S. and Israeli media of collaborating with the Iranian government and the FBI warning us about being agents of a foreign government.
Yet, in the nine days we were in Iran, we talked with Iranians in schools, bazaars and markets, on squares and in mosques. Many people in Iran speak English. English is taught from elementary school. Young students ran up to the delegation to practice their English. The Trump administration's travel ban on Iranians means that students who have been accepted to U.S. universities cannot get student visas to study in the U.S. Families with members in the U.S. cannot visit them. Iranians are turning to Europe and Asia. America is isolating itself rather than Iran being isolated by its travel ban on Iran and the six other countries included in the ban.
A surprising number of persons, particularly outside of Tehran, the capital, were very open about their disagreements with the Iranian government. In Isfahan we talked with Iranians who were visiting the same museum as us. Spotting small banners pinned to our backs that read "Peace with Iran" in English and Farsi, people came up to us, invariably beginning with, "We like Americans, but we don't like your government"" and many added, "and we don't like our government either. Graft, corruption, those in power living the high life, too much money spent on other countries which should be used at home, trusting the United States to lessen or end the sanctions after signing the nuclear agreement are reasons we were given for dislike of their government.
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