Ehteshami, Redaelli: “Now is the time to talk.”

At a Stanley Foundation briefing last Wednesday, a panel of European-based Iran experts weighed in on the current state of affairs, including the recent ‘surge’ in diplomacy. Stressing engagement, Anoush Ehteshami, Head of the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University in Britain, and Riccardo Redaelli, Director of the Middle East Program at the Landau Network-Centro Volta (LNCV), spoke on ‘US Strategy toward Iran.’

Although Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad’s saber-rattling is well and widely known, and relations between Iran and the West have soured even more since he was sworn in August of 2005, “This time is the time to speak,” Redaelli stated.

Iran has been ready for direct negotiations, but the US has been quite reluctant – until now. There is growing pressure on both sides to negotiate, which makes the announcement that Undersecretary of State William Burns would be traveling to Geneva to participate in the July 19 negotiations with Iran that much more important.

Mistrust is at an all-time high, however, and has created doubts both within Iran and the US about whether the other will take the needed steps. The states must use all possible means to understand each other, as they both have pragmatic interests and “converging strategic needs.” Be tough, Redaelli states, but not illogical.

The US must use friends and allies to welcome Iran into the fray – Isolation only helps the more radical elements in Tehran, and it is high time for the US to change its policies. Redaelli acknowledges that dealing with Iranians is difficult, but it is not impossible (he quipped that the West does deal with the French).

Ehteshami described how, since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the US has found setting an Iran policy to be challenging. Thus, their policy options have been reduced to either “no policies, or bad ones.” In the post-2003 political climate, the US has had 4 functional categories for policy options: ignore, contain, confront, or engage.

Ignoring Iran has gotten the US nowhere; Michael Kraig, the Stanley Foundation’s Director of Policy Analysis and Dialogue and moderator of the panel, noted that even Vice President Dick Cheney said some years ago that by blocking themselves from accessing Iranian oil and gas, Americans have “shot [them]selves in the foot.” Containing Iran has failed – the only containment that has occurred is on Washington itself, not Tehran. In the meantime, Iran has rebuilt relations with neighbors and Europe.

Confrontation has been “in the mix,” but not for a while; Ehteshami notes that he is baffled by the idea of ‘strategic’ attacks on Iran by US and Israel, that it will lead to much worse. Thus, he states, engagement is the only policy option left. It is not an easy option, he acknowledges, and is certainly the ‘riskiest’ of all the categories, but the US must accept some “back-falls.”

The panelists described how it is not possible for the 2003 ‘grand bargain’ proposal from Iran to be re-visited. One reason is because in 2005, the Iranians re-proposed the bargain, pledging their readiness to open up on Hezbollah and Iraq. According to Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator under President Khatami, the Iranian government was ready to relinquish all but 20 centrifuges. Again, Washington shot the idea down. Ehteshami told of how the Iranians were offended by the ‘03 and ‘05 responses (as were the Swiss, who delivered the proposal to the Americans as part of their role in handling US affairs in Iran), and thus today, the state’s leaders – including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – are unwilling to revisit the old offer, but are ready to begin negotiations. He stressed the importance of looking forward, not back.

Ehteshami described many Westerners assume there is blanket support for the nuclear program in Iran. However, many don’t support it. There is a considerable difference between acceptance of the power plants (such as at Bushehr) and the nuclear program – on the whole, he infers, Iranians do not believe the government should seek nuclear weapons. A June opinion poll with a sample of 35,000 people asked if Iran should accept the P5+1 package; more than 70% said the government should accept without condition, 8-13% said it should not.

Towards the end, Ehteshami reminded the audience that Iranians love the American people; once the US opens, things will be better.

Posted By Darioush Azizi

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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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