A Good Week for Diplomacy

It’s been a pretty good week for us here at NIAC

The Bush Administration is planning to install the first US diplomats in Iran since the hostage crisis.  The third-highest ranking official in the State Department sat down with Iran to negotiate over the nuclear issue, reversing years of stubborn and counterproductive policy.  For the first time, a presidential candidate has a special advisor for Iranian American issues.  And members of Congress and others in Washington are starting to realize–albeit slowly–that the time for isolating Iran in the hopes that all of our problems with them will just disappear is coming to an end.

That being said, there is still a long way to go.  The Senate is working on a new sanctions packageHConRes 362 is still picking up co-sponsors by the dozen (up to 247 now).  And most of the news now is talking about how the talks in Geneva on Saturday didn’t produce anything substantive

But I remain an optimist for a few reasons. 

First, it should come as no surprise that this one day of talks didn’t produce a breakthrough.  The purpose of this round of talks was for Iran to give its response to the latest incentives package.  The P5+1 were just there to listen–the US didn’t send Burns to contribute to the negotiations in any substantial way at all.  His presence at the table was the contribution–and it was an important one, in my view.  The way Trita explains it, it will take a few rounds of talks that include the US for anything to actually happen.  After the third or fourth round, it’s not newsworthy anymore that we’re a part of the negotiations.  And that’s the point when we can really get down to business.  So patience is important.

Second, I think it’s interesting how a lot of this came about when it did.  As with everything that involves Iranian politics, the last few weeks have been complicated with seemingly contradictory signals coming from both sides simultaneously.  First there was Israel’s military excercise that simulated a strike on Iranian nuclear sites, and the escalating rhetoric from the US, Iran, and Israel about a possible military confrontation; but that was also followed by senior US and Iranian officials both trying to reiterate the need for a diplomatic solution, and then the news about the US interests section and a diplomatic envoy. 

It’s interesting how the littlest things can create important openings.  After last week’s missile test in Iran, the media picked up a bizarre story that we reported on here at niacINsight: the Revolutionary Guard photoshopped an extra missile into the picture it released to world news outlets.  I think it’s important not to overlook just how embarrassing this must have been for the IRGC.  To be humiliated on a global stage–about a military matter, no less–and all because of something so…well…dumb. 

Now, I’m not privy to any insider information from the White House.  But I think it’s possible that this humiliation for the IRGC played a part in the timing for Washington’s opening up to Iran.  The Bush administration has been considering a US interests section for at least 2 years.  And no one expected the US to cave in on its demand that Iran halt its uranium enrichment before we join any talks.  But humiliation is a powerful tool in international relations.  If you can offer your opponent a chance to save face while also meeting your objective, chances are you can make some real progress. 

Sitting down with Amb. Burns does two things at once–it signals to the international community and Iran that the US is serious about resolving the conflict through negotiations; and it gives Iran the chance to make some real concessions while still saving face because the US came to them, not the other way around.  With more time, and probably a little luck, this freeze-for-freeze proposal could gain some traction.  Ideally, Iran will agree to stop expanding its uranium enrichment program, in return for which the P5+1 will agree to stop pursuing additional UN Security Council sanctions.  That should give both sides the breathing room to negotiate an actual suspension of Iran’s enrichment program until a solution can be worked out that will involve some sort of international inspections regime to guarantee Iran’s nuclear program remains for peaceful purpose only.  Hopefully it will be something like Amb. Pickering’s proposal from earlier this year. 

So I think, for the first time in awhile, there looks to be real reason for optimism–if not immediately, then soon. 

And though I could be wrong, it might just be because some guy in the IRGC thought it would make a better picture to have four missiles instead of three.  But you know what–I’ll take it.

Posted By Patrick Disney

    One Response to “A Good Week for Diplomacy”

  1. Babak Talebi says:

    Patrick… you certainly bring up a point I had never considered before.

    but you are right that humiliation and pride play a huge role in relations between nations… often a destructive role.

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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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