• 13 February 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Persian Gulf

Change? or more of the same?

iran-missile1The Obama administration since taking office has declared with some conviction that it believes Iran is probably pursuing a nuclear weapons cabability.  This despite the intelligence community’s reaffirmation of its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which declared that Iran halted its weapons program in 2003.

Obama, who was elected with a mandate for changing the policies of the previous administration, has trumpeted his new approach to dealing with Iran.  But this is a pretty glaring contradiction–if it is still the consensus of all 16 US intelligence agencies that Iran halted its weapons program, then it would have to be a political decision to continue the Bush administration’s public line that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon.  So what’s going on here?

During his Senate confirmation hearing, CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta said of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability:

From all the information that I’ve seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.

Only yesterday did the administration begin to walk back from that line somewhat, when Adm. Dennis Blair, nominee for the position of Director of National Intelligence, said:

Although we do not know whether Iran currently intends to develop nuclear weapons, we assess Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop them… I can say at this point that Iran is clearly developing all the components of a deliverable nuclear weapons program — fissionable material, nuclear weaponizing capability and the means to deliver it.

So what exactly do we take from all this?

Obviously, the Obama administration’s policy review is still ongoing; therefore there will be no major change in America’s approach to Iran until that review is finished and the policy is decided upon.  But the question of “Is Iran pursuing a nuclear weapon?” seems to be pretty straightforward, right?  Wrong.

Most experts agree that Iran probably isn’t hell-bent on building a nuclear bomb as soon as it can.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not pursuing a weapons capability.  Let me explain.

Iran’s current nuclear program is devoted mainly to building up its capacity for enriching uranium, the material that can be used to run a power plant or to fuel a bomb.  At this point in the program, there is little difference between a weapons program and a civilian program–either way, Iran would have to build cascades of centrifuges that will enrich sufficient quantities of uranium for whichever purpose they have in mind.

Meanwhile, Iran seems to be building up its missile capabilities (though this aspect is largely overblown in Washington), and has been less than fully cooperative with IAEA inspectors (raising the level of doubt in Iran’s peaceful intentions).

It is important to note, though, that the IAEA has in place some pretty strong safeguards that tell us a lot about Iran’s intentions.  Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA director, has declared with full confidence that Iran has not diverted any of its low-enriched uranium (which can’t be used in a weapon, but which could be re-enriched to weapons grade) from its stockpiles.  Additionally, the IAEA has declared that there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program at any of the declared nuclear sites in Iran.

What they can’t confirm, however, is the absence of any covert weapons program.  But that’s a pretty hard thing to do–confirm the absence of something secret…

So where does this leave us?

Well, we know that if Iran were to decide tomorrow that it wants a nuclear weapon, it would have to kick out all of the IAEA inspectors.  This would be a dead giveaway to the international community that Iran has gone off the reservation.  But we also know that Iran doesn’t have to make that decision just yet.

It’s very likely that all Iran wants is the capability to build a bomb, much like Japan has.  By developing the infrastructure to create a nuclear weapon in a short amount of time, a country effectively achieves all of the positive benefits without incurring many of the costs of “going nuclear.”   Most experts agree this is what Iran wants–technically, they wouldn’t be breaking any laws.  But it’s by no means a comfortable situation.

Here’s the big deal, though.  Everything hinges on Iran’s political decision to make a bomb or not.  That means that if the international community can effectively convince Iran not to do it, then this crisis will be averted.  And that’s good news, because all of our previous efforts to deny Iran the ability to develop a weapon have essentially failed.  They have enrichment technology, they’re developing longer-ranged missiles, and you can find technical specifications for warhead designs on the internet.

So now all Obama has to do is figure out how to negotiate with Iran in a way that acknowledges their technical capabilities but that prevents a military application for what they’ve already developed.  Shouldn’t be too hard, right…?

update: Check out Laura Rozen’s post on the same topic (coincidence, I swear) over at the Cable.  Also Paul Pillar’s take here.

Posted By Patrick Disney

    One Response to “Change? or more of the same?”

  1. Joe says:

    We must use nuclear weapon against Iran and Russia for a reason. We need to the cold war anyway. If we don`t do anything, than we still can die by them and Russia.

Leave a ReplyLeave a Reply to Joe

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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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