Comment: 'Indiscriminate US Sanctions Resulted in Crash'
15 Jul 2009 16:17
Iranians gather near the debris of the Caspian Airlines plane which crashed into a farmland near the city of Qazvin, northwest of Tehran. -- AFP
A personal account of loss, and a historical reminder of America's complicity in the 1,571 civilian air deaths in Iran since the Revolution
Dispatch from Iran | 15 July 2009
She was a doctor going to Erevan to take her USMLE exams so that maybe someday she could continue her studies in the United States. As grief overcomes me, I start searching for the guilty parties and one party stands out: the United States.
Before the Revolution, the Iranian national airline, Homa, used to be the pride of Iranians. One of the biggest international airlines equipped with the latest airplanes, Iran Air, was ranked as the second safest airline in the world in 1976, second only to Qantas. But after the Revolution and because of the sanctions leveled against Iran by the United States, any sale of aircraft or their parts to Iran was declared illegal and thus a once magnificent fleet fell into disarray and disrepair.
Throughout the years, the Iranian technicians became more and more efficient in aircraft maintenance, but lack of essential parts meant the aged and battered fleet faced technical problems, flight delays and crashes. As the sanctions stated, it was prohibited to sell Iran anything that contained more than 10% US technology and most aircraft -- including Airbuses and of course Boeings -- fell into this category. So Iran looked for alternatives and found one in the shaky, noisy and unreliable Russian Tupolov, many of which have crashed in Iran and around the world.
Since the Revolution, many airplanes have crashed in Iran. Roughly 1,500 flight incidents have been reported, including more than 60 crashes that led to the loss of 1,571 lives. In 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 290 passengers over the Persian Gulf. The captain of the ship, William C. Rogers III, was later awarded the Legion of Merit for his command.
As for the rest of the 1,571 dead passengers, the US still carries a part of the blame. I know no one in the United States planned to kill any of these passengers, but still they failed to ensure that their government's sanctions had their desired effect -- to hurt the Islamic government. Instead, it has been the people who have paid the price.
A simple "IF" clause could have spared the lives of hundreds; something like: "Sale of passenger aircraft or parts for maintenance of such aircraft is exempt from sanction." But nobody bothered, and as is the norm with sanctions, they made the people bleed and fortified the position of the government. Most of the sanctions against Iran are indiscriminate and even useless; indiscriminate, because they have interfered with the daily life of Iranians, and useless because the government has always found ways around them.
Take for example the arms embargo in place against Iran. Although it has stopped the flow of weapons from the West into Iran, the Russians and the Chinese have supplied Iran with a vast and deadly arsenal. During the Iran/Iraq War, even America and Israel sold missiles to Iran in what is now most famously known as the Iran-Contra affair.
As an Iranian, I believe that the time has come to fine-tune the sanctions against Iran. I don't mind actions taken against the government of Iran, as I don't believe that it is a legitimate government. However, special care is needed to exclude the people of Iran. Designing sanctions is a very delicate task, one that may backfire and end up causing more harm than good; it requires enough research and field data as well as safety valves in order to exclude the people.
My friend was going to Erevan because, despite the many applicants in Iran, US law prevents the USMLE exam to be held in Iran. My friend died en route to Erevan because under the US law, selling of new reliable aircraft to Iran is prohibited.
I greatly admire President Barack Obama. To me, he seems to be a man of reason, logic and pragmatism. It is time for his administration to review and refine the old-fashioned, out-dated and harmful sanctions of the previous administrations.
Such attitudes should not be limited to sanctions, but in general I expect the Western powers to take a more pro-people approach towards Iran. For example, when the US Congress passes a bill for millions of dollars in support of opposition groups in Iran, it ends up allowing the Iranian government to label opposition members and dissidents as spies on the American payroll or as hooligans funded by the United States working towards a velvet revolution. Instead, those funds could be invested in providing a free flow of information to the Iranian people; it could be used to design software that can overcome any Internet filtering. Unfortunately a company like Nokia-Siemens has sold a phone-tapping device to Iran, justifying it simply as "business."
In diplomacy, the world is too focused on the nuclear issue and ignores human rights. A government that doesn't respect the rights and lives of its own citizens is more likely to endanger the rights and lives of the neighboring countries. What really worries me is that the world is ready to make a concession on the human rights issue if Iran is willing to make a concession on the nuclear issue. I plea to the world leaders: please make sure that human rights issues don't take a backseat when it comes to the nuclear issue.
As I am writing this, I can't help but worry that because I am planning to take the USMLE exam myself in the near future, perhaps I will share the same unfortunate fate of my friend. If with our demonstrations we have shown the world a new face of Iran, maybe the world should smile back at this face and help to protect it from the tyrants who rule over this great nation.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau