• 14 January 2008
  • Posted By Emily Blout
  • Diplomacy, House 2008 Elections, Legislative Agenda

Lantos has left the building: Sort of

Last week, Representative Tom Lantos [D-CA-12] announced his intention to step down in January 2009 due to pancreatic cancer. Lantos is chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and second in seniority on the Oversight Committee. His departure creates a critical opening in the democratic leadership and the potential to steer a new course in US-Iran relations.

The Foreign Affairs Committee is the place where important FP policy decisions are hashed out and related legislation goes to live or die. It is a critical forum to address US policy issues such as sanctions and diplomacy. It is extremely difficult to get any foreign relations legislation passed in the House without the chairman’s backing.

Lantos held a few hearings on Iran earlier last year, but was never able to get a hearing on human rights in Iran off the ground because all the credible experts on the subject refused to testify and/or advised him against it.

His problem is not surprising. The list of those currently living inside Iran willing to put their lives and cause on the line to publicly testify before the US government is extremely short. This, coupled with the committee’s track record on Iran is reason enough for legitimate Iranian human rights experts and activists to stay away. Over the last year, Lantos’ committee has been a virtual printing press of resolutions condemning Iran and accusing it of all kind of malfeasances, both real and unsubstantiated. Lantos spearheaded the effort to get additional punitive sanctions on Iran (HR 1400 passed in the House) and is backing additional sanctions measures by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-FL-18].

Lantos co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which he heads with Senator Sam Brownback [R-KS].

Berman, Ackerman in line for Lantos spot

Speaker of the House Nanci Pelosi has said she will offer California Democrat Howard Berman [D-CA-28] Lantos’ spot. Berman is next in line due to his seniority in the committee, followed by Gary Ackerman [D-NY-5], who chairs the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee.

However, it is not clear whether Berman will accept the top job, because he would have to step down from his post as chair of the sub-committee on Courts, Internet and Intellectual Property Rights at the Judiciary Committee.

Berman is the go to guy on intellectual property rights and the Democrats’ primary liaison to the entertainment community and thus may be reluctant to abandon his ongoing work in that area.

Like Lantos, Berman spearheaded the sanctions against Iran and Libya in 1996.

In 2007, neither the House nor its counterpart in the Senate was very active on Iran, despite sky-high tensions and the release of the NIE. But that may change this session, Joe Biden [D-DE] returns to the senate after a short-lived presidential primary bid and his chair at the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Biden is expected to hold a full committee hearing on Iran in the next month or so.

Posted By Emily Blout

    3 Responses to “Lantos has left the building: Sort of”

  1. emilyblout says:

    As the senior member on Judiciary, Berman would also have the opportunity to fill Chairman John Conyers [D-MI] spot when leaves (that is , if Barney Frank does not return from the Finance Committee to take the post.) New House rules preclude members from serving as committee chair for more than three consecutive two year terms.

  2. amir says:

    Does Berman mean more of the same? is there any indication that he would seriously consider diplomacy?

  3. Babak Talebi says:

    It is somewhat up in the air though I would not expect a huge shift in attitudes towards Iran on the committee. He is however expected to be better on US-Iran issues then the other leading candidate, Ackerman of New York.

    Berman does have a large number of Iranian Americans in his district that should meet with him regularly to inform him of our communities views.

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Sign the Petition


7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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