November 2, 2005

In early 2003 "US Academics Against the War," a delegation comprised of 37 professors from 28 US universities, traveled to Baghdad on a fact-finding mission. We held talks with Iraqi academic colleagues, government officials, and non-governmental actors, six weeks prior to the Bush administration's attack on Iraq. This initiative followed a letter ultimately signed by 33,000 US academics urging President Bush not to invade Iraq. Unfortunately, our warnings went unheeded.

In September, 2005, a second "US Academics for Peace" delegation, consisting of 13 university professors, human rights advocates, and peace activists, traveled to Iran and Syria on another fact-finding mission. We met with government officials, political leaders, university administrators, and academics from Tehran University, Shahid Beheshti University, and Damascus University. In Tehran, US Academics For Peace met with the former President of Iran, Mohammed Khatami, and in Damascus with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the First Lady. It was our purpose to initiate dialogue that might further mutual understanding between the United States and Iran and Syria. We stressed to both governments our concern with their records on civil liberties and human rights. But we remain convinced that the rhetoric of violent "regime change" will only make matters worse. We wish to warn against the use of military force by the United States against Iran and Syria. Such action, we believe, will produce an even bloodier repetition of the tragedy sparked by the invasion of Iraq and create even greater chaos in the region.

US Academics for Peace found that dialogue is possible with the Iranian and Syrian governments. Although we are aware that significant political and cultural differences exist between the United States and these two nations, resolving them will require a serious commitment to conflict resolution by all parties. Current U.S. policy towards both Iran and Syria has been ineffectual and even counter productive. Economic sanctions imposed by the United States have had detrimental effects on especially the most vulnerable citizens of Iran without producing democratic reform or compliance on the part of the government. The inflammatory and provocative rhetoric of the Bush Administration that labels Iran and Syria as "rogue states," supporters of terrorism, and part of an "axis of evil," has only increased tensions and mistrust.

Human rights violations of a serious nature continue to occur in both Iran and Syria. Our delegation, however, opposes the imposition of double standards on human rights. We firmly support universal standards and the efforts of organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. We also believe that democratic reform must come from within, not be imposed from without, and must be initiated by the citizens of Iran and Syria. Talk of "regime change" by the United States only empowers extremist elements. It works to strengthen repression under the guise of national security. We therefore call upon the United States to stop its rhetoric and, instead, foster academic and cultural exchange programs along with increased trade in order to build trust, improve understanding, and change existing negative perceptions of each other.

With respect to Iran, the decision of its government to build a nuclear reactor has produced fear and the threat of reprisals by the United States. US Academics for Peace is sharply critical of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We believe in the need for a nuclear free zone for the entire Middle East. But the right of nations to employ nuclear energy is not precluded by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was signed by Iran, and there is no evidence to date to suggest that nuclear weapons are being built. Iran has also accepted IAEA inspections. We adamantly oppose attempts based on unproven suspicions, allegations, or prejudices to subject Iran to special evaluative criteria not included in the NPT. There is no excuse for deplorable statements by Iranian leaders to “wipe out the state of Israel.” Nevertheless, threats to exclude Iran from the United Nations, to engage in a pre-emptive strike, or to bring about “regime change” can only inhibit dialogue and prove counter-productive.

We believe peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved without Syria playing a vital role. Since May 2004, when the United States tightened sanctions, it has become increasingly difficult for Syria to purchase computer parts, radiation equipment for treating cancer patients, and various other products that might improve the lives of Syrian citizens. The United States has rejected Syrian overtures for dialogue and made diplomatic exchanges extremely difficult. Such tactics obviously tend to strengthen the hand of authoritarian elements in Syria and undermine existing attempts at reform in Syria that should be taken seriously and welcomed. Our delegation also feels that, whatever the results of the UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, they should not be employed as a justification for "regime change" or war.

We urge President Bush to refrain from repeating the appalling mistake he made when he launched the illegal invasion of Iraq. More than 2000 American soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed, hundreds of billions of dollars have been wasted, and there is no solution in sight. We call upon President Bush to follow a different course by initiating diplomatic negotiations with Iran and Syria in order to resolve existing disputes and disagreements. If we wish to avoid another conflict then we need to increase understanding among the peoples and the governments of these two nations and the United States. War is the worst human rights violation and it must be avoided at all reasonable costs. The alternative is dialogue. It must be unconditional and undertaken in good faith, for¾as we have seen¾without dialogue conflict is inevitable.

Contact Information:


James E. Jennings, Ph.D.
President, Conscience International
Delegation Leader

Janet Amighi
Professor of Anthropology,
Montgomery Community College, Pennsylvania

John Amidon
Veterans for Peace, Albany, New York; Interfaith Alliance of New York State

Stephen Eric Bronner
Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Jersey

Anne Burns
Publisher, New York and New Jersey.

Lawrence Davidson
Professor of Middle East History, West Chester University, West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Carole Ferraro
Instructor in English as a Second Lanaguage, The State University of New York at Albany.

Kurt Jacobsen
Research Associate in Political Science, University of Chicago

Bianca Jagger
The Council of Europe's Goodwill Ambassador; Member, Amnesty International Leadership Council USA; Member, Advisory Board of Human Rights Watch-Americas

Diane Reiner
Instructor in English and Executive Board Member of the International
Center, Albany, New York.

Wade Savage
Professor of Philosophy, The University of Minnesota

Diane Savage
Attorney at Law, Minnesota

Michael Simmons
Former Medical Research Specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles