• 2 July 2008
  • Posted By Julia Murray
  • Diplomacy, Events in DC, Legislative Agenda, US-Iran War

Reflections from Nuclear Tourists

Ever heard of a couple choosing to vacation at nuclear energy sites? Your answer is probably no but that is exactly what husband and wife, Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger, decided to do when writing their book A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry. In addition to visiting sites in America and Russia, they traveled to Iran in 2007 after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s 2006 invitation when he welcomed students, tourists and other visitors to see Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to display his country’s peaceful intentions.

The couple, both of who are defense analysts – Hodge writes for Jane’s Defence Weekly and Weinberger writes for Wired’s national security blog, Danger Room spoke about their trip to the Esfahan Uranium Conversion Facility at an event hosted by the Center for National Policy last Thursday.

When they considered traveling to Iran Weinberger and Hodge knew they would not be given free reign. Weinberger recognized that Iranian officials would “show you the things they want you to see…(and) point out the things they want to point out.” However, they wanted to view nuclear facilities in states perceived by the West as national security threats; the level of access they could gain in Iran was greater than was available in India or Pakistan.

In Iran they were taken on a two-day tour of Esfahan. They travelled in a group, the majority of which was diplomats from other Middle Eastern countries. They spent one day at the Esfahan Conversion Facility and the second touring the city. Weinberger and Hodge said Esfahan was rich in culture and the tour served to display what would be destroyed if the US decided to bomb the area.

It was clear to them that on an official state level “there were people who most definitely didn’t want us to be there.” However, this attitude was not present on the ground. They felt there was “a great deal of happiness” shown by Iranian civilians when they saw Americans. Weinberger said that she sensed a “frustration (amongst Iranians) with their own government for being cut off from the rest of the world.”

Whilst in Tehran the couple wanted to visit the US Embassy, the site of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. Upon hearing this, Iranian people tried to dissuade them. This was not due to anti-Americanism but because Iranians felt ashamed of what had happened. Weinberger said that the American Embassy evoked “embarrassment for a great deal of – especially educated – Iranians.”

In addition to visiting Esfahan they met various Iranian politicians and representatives from non-profit organizations. As Americans, they were constantly asked about potential airstrikes on Iran. It was emphasized that Iran would not give into US demands to stop enrichment and that an airstrike would result in a deterioration of oil transportation, regional instability and an Iranian withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The abandonment of the NPT would end IAEA oversight and Hodge argued this would, “only lead to a worsening of the situation.”

Such observations are extremely pertinent given recent reports expressing the likelihood of Israeli airstrikes on Iran between the upcoming US election and January, when the new President will be sworn in.

The couple seemed pessimistic about the chances of stemming Iran’s nuclear development. On a popular level they recognized that the government had “drummed up a lot of public support” for nuclear energy and banners in the streets read “Nuclear Energy is a Right.” They also commented there was a strong feeling that the Iranian government “has the right…to develop their own indigenous capability,” because it is provided for in the NPT.

However, they expressed doubt about how receptive the Iranian public would be to a nuclear weapons program, as opposed to the development of nuclear energy. Weinberger said, “there is probably not a lot of public support for a nuclear program” after people fell victim to chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). She indicated this sentiment might change if there were airstrikes on Iran.

They also saw the costs of Iran’s economic isolation from the West. Hodge said, “sanctions certainly are effective in slowing down Iran’s nuclear program” but he did not see them as successfully discouraging Iran’s progress in this field. He noted that uranium enrichment has become “too important an issue of national pride for the Iranian government to give up.” Weinberger added that the nuclear program also provides a useful way for the government to distract attention from its own economic mismanagement and corruption.

Addressing what America’s next move should be in relation to Iran, the nuclear tourists said that “destroying Iran’s nuclear capability is impossible.” Its nuclear facilities are spread throughout the country and Iranian officials told them that airstrikes would only set them back a couple of years. Therefore, Weinberger argued, unless the US wants to bomb Iran every few years a bombing strategy is not the best way forward and America must “think of the long term consequences.”

Posted By Julia Murray

    One Response to “Reflections from Nuclear Tourists”

  1. Chris Dornan says:

    Dis it occur to our tourists that nobody in Iran wants nuclear weapons? A nuclear weapons program (as distinct from full control over the fuel cycle) makes no strategic sense whatsoever. Neither does appeasement. If any of us were seriously interested in peace we would be making much more sense. If I were them I would not be caving on core demands in the current environment.

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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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