Reverse-engineering an Obama deal with Iran

If all the hype about the incoming Obama administration is to be believed, prospects for a deal between the US and Iran on the nuclear issue have never been brighter.  So imagine for a moment that we’re already a year into an Obama presidency, and the White House has just recently issued a proud statement that it has just negotiated a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, and talks are underway at Camp David to finalize the agreement. How did this come about? 

Let’s re-trace our steps, from that historic day a little over a year from now all the way back to today, and see just what it took to get us there…


6. (December, 2009): Presidential-level talks.  In order for an agreement to be legitimate, both countries must be involved at the highest level.  This means an eventual face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the US and Iran. 

Though Supreme Leader Khamenei chose not to attend the meeting personally, he decided to send Iran’s recently-elected reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, in his place.  Just a few months after his reelection to a third term as President, Khatami is re-energized and not looking to miss out on a second chance to make history.  He jumps at the opportunity to re-make his legacy and sits down in good faith with his American counterpart.  A final draft of the agreement is announced shortly thereafter. 

5. (October-November, 2009): Cabinet-level negotiations.  While the Presidential-level talks receive most of the press, it is the back and forth between the US Secretary of State and the Iranian Foreign Minister – a notable achievement in its own right – that cements an eventual deal.  Though neither side feels it is a perfect arrangement – (no compromise ever does) – both diplomats work out a plan that guarantees Iran will not pursue nuclear weapons, while also ushering Iran back into the international community as a key regional actor. 

4. (January-October, 2009): Track-one talks.  To prove his seriousness about finding a negotiated solution to the nuclear problem, President Obama begins his first one hundred days in office by announcing ambassadorial-level negotiations with the Iranian government.  In what prove to be a long, grueling process with little or nothing to show for it, these tiresome negotiations prove invaluable for both countries to clear up nearly three decades of hostility and animosity toward each other. 

Throughout the 10 month process, each side vents its frustrations–the US at Iranian involvement in attacks on American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Iran at America’s unwillingness to allow Tehran to continue its nuclear program as it wishes.  But throughout it all, both sides maintain a fundamental willingness to compromise, and this is what drives an eventual framework for a deal.  Tehran helps to rein in violence against US troops in its neighboring countries, and Washington drops its “zero enrichment” demand in exchange for unprecedented multilateral inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities.

3. (January, 2009): Military and back-channel talks.  The Obama administration wastes no time before tackling the big issues – even before inauguration day, senior military officials from the incoming White House meet with Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders.  Far from the media spotlight, the topic of discussion is: ways to prevent an incident between the two militaries that could escalate into full-scale confrontation. 

Both sides agree that in the event of either a naval skirmish in the Persian Gulf, or an altercation on the Iran-Iraq border, cooler heads must prevail and neither side should allow things to escalate beyond manageable levels.  With this, both sides are guaranteed enough time and space to allow for a diplomatic breakthrough to begin to develop. 

2. (Late November, 2008): Still-President Bush announces the opening of a US diplomatic interests section in Iran.  In a move that analysts compare to Nixon’s reopening diplomatic relations with China, President Bush announces a plan to put the first US diplomats on the ground in Iran since 1979.  Most experts agree that Bush’s conservative credentials provide him with the political maneuverability to make such a bold gesture toward the Iranians without being labeled soft on Tehran. 

This move creates the space for the incoming Obama administration to reorient US policy away from the hostile and threatening rhetoric and toward a more reasonable and conciliatory tone. 

1. (Fall, 2008): A shifting atmosphere within Congress and among the American public allows for a thoughtful reassessment of US-Iran policy.  After the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American people are wary of further military commitment in the Middle East.  It’s not long before the prospect of an attack on Iran is essentially off the table.  Special interest groups calling for aggressive action against Iran are increasingly losing influence, and Congress and the public are left wondering what other options we haven’t tried yet with respect to Iran. 

The electorate welcomes Senator Obama’s campaign platform of direct negotiations with America’s enemies, and it is precisely this sensible and cerebral foreign policy that propels him to an overwhelming victory on Election Day.


Now, it may come as no surprise that some of the developments I mentioned in that last step have already happened.  Obama was elected with a large electoral mandate.  And most experts agree that an attack on Iran is no longer imminent.  An astute reader of this blog may even point out that, with the defeat of H.Con.Res. 362, the Iran-hawks in town are increasingly losing their influence. 

I raised these points not because it’s easy to predict things that have already happened, but to demonstrate how recent events might provide the momentum President-elect Obama needs to follow through with his campaign promise of negotiations with Iran.  Each of these steps acts as a foundation on which to build more momentum, with the ultimate goal of a negotiated solution.  And though it may not work out exactly like I’ve planned, taking an incremental approach like this one, in which every little bit of progress counts, is the only way President-elect Obama will be able to break out of the rut that US foreign policy on Iran has occupied for the last 29 years. 

I, for one, am hoping for an announcement from President Bush relatively soon…

Posted By Patrick Disney

    One Response to “Reverse-engineering an Obama deal with Iran”

  1. AnIranianinMontreal says:

    First of all, time is in our favor. so, no rush for any deal. Actually, the U.S has no option than talking to a nuclear Iran. Especially when our nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, as we have stated this notion for countless times. having relation is a necessity that forces the U.S to give up its 3 decades of hostility toward Iran. The policy of insult, looking down…has to “change”. Instead of deal, it’s better to use the term cooperation. and for that cooperation to happen, the U.S has to “change” its view in looking at the sections as a leverage.

    and for Iran’s presidential election. As the one who had voted twice for Khatami and even one time actively collected votes for him, I believe there is no chance for him to be the next president of Iran. If he comes to the presidential race, it will be the same mistake as Hashemi did last time.

    I remember, in a meeting with one of Hashemi’s close aids 3 or 4 (i can’t remember exactly) days before second election day, I told the guy, how many votes do you want to win and how many do you think to get. He said, we think around 17 million will participate and if we get 10, we will win. I told him in the meeting, it’s a wrong calculation. I said, you will get the 10 million votes but you won’t vote as 25 million is the minimum that are gonna vote. He introduced us a new strategy, actually it was sort of fear tactic, to tackle the already falling campaign by face to face strategy. I warned him of this false assumption, but he said, you are young and inexperienced. one or 2 nights later, Ahmadinejad could use that tactic to vindicate himself in a popular TV interview (and at least got millions votes as of that only) and won the election. Hashemi’s defeat was quite predictable and we all knew that our efforts are a desperate move. It was an inevitable outcome of a collected image on the mind of Iranians. Ironically, that failure has helped to enhance his popularity.

    Khatami, I personally think, will have the same adventure(and the Iranian media abroad doesn’t get it as always). His maximum electoral votes is 10 million at the best. and my recent trip to Iran, in that I toured nearly half of the country confirmed this to my myself at least. Actually, as the one who didn’t want to see Ahmadinejad to be president in the last election, I think, he would be a relatively good option, at least much better than Khatami if that is going to be the eventuality, to deal with outside world, and I wish he could change his internal policy and attitude. His election will send a strong message to Washington not to look for the policy of linkage. Khatami’s weak personality will definitely send a wrong message in that sense. For the reformists, who I voted for 4 consecutive elections and won’t vote for them again! At least for the foreseeable future, I think, with the current arrangement, Karrobi’s chance is more than Khatami. And there are two powerful (and capable) candidates, in the wider conservatives’ camp, other than the above ones that do have more chances. After all, Iran’s turf is an unpredictable one, as Ferdowsi said 1000 years ago : “ke Iranian mardomi reimanand”!. It’s better to for the U.S not to think of any big changes as a result of Iran’s presidential election.

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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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