Members of Veterans For Peace, along with other U.S. peace activists, met Tuesday night with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Veterans For Peace President Leah Bolger addressed the meeting, stressing VFP's commitment to doing everything possible to prevent a U.S. or U.S.-assisted attack on Iran. VFP hopes to send a delegation to Iran in October.
Bolger's full prepared remarks follow:
"Good evening. Salaam alaikum President Ahmahdinejad, Honored Government Officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran, distinguished guests and colleagues.
"I am most pleased and honored to be in attendance with all of you, and to be able to represent Veterans For Peace–an organization of men and women who draw upon their experiences as military veterans to oppose war and militarism. By educating the public about the true costs of war, we hope to reveal its senseless immorality and to bring enough pressure to bear to end it.
"It is no secret that this meeting carries some controversy—but the truth is that this gathering is really quite remarkable—what other head of state is having meetings such as this? While you, Mr. President, have invited dozens of people to come together for discussion and dialog, the U.S. government has denied visas for 20 high-level Iranian diplomats and government officials. Veterans For Peace believes that open dialog is critical, and is very much appreciative of the opportunity this evening.
"Veterans For Peace is gravely concerned by the bellicose language coming from the government of Israel and the U.S. regarding Iran, as well as the words that President Obama is NOT saying—and that is, that the government of the U.S. will NOT support a military attack on Iran by Israel. We believe that without a specific denial of support for such an attack, that Israel will interpret this as tacit approval.
"We note that Iran has been a signatory to the NPT since its inception in 1968, even though it does not have a nuclear weapons program. Israel, on the other hand, which is NOT a signatory to the NPT has a fully developed nuclear weapons program, but does not acknowledge that it exists.
"We also note that Iran fully supports a “Nuclear Weapons-Free Middle East Zone,” yet this proposal has been dismissed out of hand by Israel, and has been virtually ignored by the U.S. media.
"In 1928 the United States and Persia signed the largely forgotten but still binding Kellogg-Briand Pact that outlaws all war. Iran and the United States and 79 other nations are parties to this treaty according to the U.S. State Department's website. Furthermore the UN charter makes it clear that even the threat of war is a violation of international law.
"The point of everything I have just said is to note that it is not the government of Iran that is beating the drum for war.
"As veterans, we understand the true damage that is caused by war, and as Veterans For Peace, we feel it is our obligation to use our unique voice to point out ways in which war may be averted. We know that it is much more difficult to end wars once begun, than to prevent them from the beginning; therefore we are doing our utmost to stop this one before it starts. With regard to the current situation between the U.S., Israel, and Iran, we believe that the following actions would be productive measures in averting a war with Iran:
1. The U.S. should announce that it will revoke the $3B it gives Israel every year in military aid, should Israel attack Iran.
2. Insist that Israel be held to the same standards of openness and transparency that it demands of Iran with regard to its nuclear program, to include allowing IAEA inspectors into Israel, and signing on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
3. Remove its Carrier Battle Groups, loaded with dozens of nuclear weapons, from the region. Discontinue “military exercises” in the area.
4. Express full support for the Helsinki meetings in December, and the “Nuclear Free Middle East.” Pressure Israel to attend this meeting, which is scheduled for this December.
5. Stop using U.S. veto power to protect Israel from being held accountable for its actions by the UN.
"The main point I am trying to make in these remarks is that no matter what political differences of opinion we may have, the government of Iran, and more specifically, the people of Iran, have done nothing to warrant military action by either Israel or the U.S. The Iranian government maintains some policies with which we may disagree, but that disagreement does not justify the collective punishment of the people of Iran with economic sanctions (which VFP considers immoral and a violation of international law) and it most certainly does not justify military actions. One of the tenets of the Veterans For Peace statement of purpose is to prevent OUR government from interfering overtly or covertly in the affairs of other nations. VFP supports the self-determination of all peoples.
"Veterans For Peace wishes to acknowledge Iran on its recent assumption as the leader of the Non Aligned Movement, and the successful summit held in Tehran just weeks ago. Our organization seeks opportunities to work with organizations within NAM countries to resist and oppose war and militarism.
"Veterans For Peace will continue to resist our country’s propensity for war—we will be demonstrating in the streets, we will be lobbying our Congressmen, we will be speaking out, we will be arrested and we will be jailed. We will study the cultures of others, and learn from them and we will seek every opportunity for dialog and relationship-building with those our government labels as our quote, “enemy.” VFP seeks the opportunity to send a delegation to Iran at the earliest opportunity. There is a strong interest in our organization to meet with veterans of other nations because military veterans understand the reality of war–the deaths, the physical and mental injuries of our own military as well as those against whom we have fought. We know the Iranian people suffered greatly when Iraq chose to attack Iran in the long, eight year war and that you too have programs to help your veterans deal with the horrors of war. It is my hope that such a visit may be organized in the very near future.
Veterans For Peace was founded in 1985 and has approximately 5,000 members in 150 chapters located in every U.S. state and several countries. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization recognized as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) by the United Nations, and is the only national veterans' organization calling for the abolishment of war.