• 3 March 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Diplomacy, Iran Election 2009, Nuclear file, Persian Gulf, Sanctions, UN


From Russia’s RIA Novosti:

Washington has told Moscow that Russian help in resolving Iran’s nuclear program would make its missile shield plans for Europe unnecessary, a Russian daily said on Monday, citing White House sources.

U.S. President Barack Obama made the proposal on Iran in a letter to his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, Kommersant said, referring to unidentified U.S. officials.

I’ve long believed that someone should write a book about the complicated ballet of US-Russian-Iranian relations.  Maybe they can call it “Treacherous Triangle.”…

The dispute over missile defense dates back to the Cold War, but is at the forefront of US-Russian tensions still today.  Along with concerns of NATO’s expansion Eastward, the Russians view the proposed missile site in Poland and the corresponding radar in the Czech Republic as an encroachment on their national security. 

If one were honest, one could argue that the missile shield was really George W. Bush’s baby.  Obama has never seemed all that convinced of its necessity (especially given that despite billions of dollars, the missile defense program has yet to prove it even works), and this latest move shouldn’t come as a great surprise.  But it does raise some interesting questions about the geopolitical approach Obama might take toward Iran in particular and Russia and Iran in general. 

It’s long been known that there can be no hope for tougher UN Security Council sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program without support from the Russians and the Chinese.  It’s often cited (though I would argue sometimes too often) that China will follow Russia’s lead, since it wouldn’t want to be the “odd man out” in the permanent five Security Council members.  So Russia holds the key.  But while Russia certainly has an interest in preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon, the threat it perceives from Iran’s nuclear program rises nowhere near as high on Moscow’s priorities list as it does in Washington. 

That’s where the ballet comes in.  

Russia maintains amicable relations with Iran, particularly regarding trade, selling everything from S-300 air defense systems to nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactor (more on that below).  In exchange, Iran has proven a valuable ally to have in the global energy markets (the two hold the lion’s share of the world’s natural gas reserves).  But perhaps the most useful consequence of Russia’s closeness to Iran is its ability to exact concessions from the United States. 

In the dance of geopolitics, Russia is adept at playing the US and Iran against each other–when it suits Moscow’s interests, it can shift closer to Tehran; other times it might be better to strengthen ties with Washington vis-a-vis the mullahs.  And when both the US and Iran have laid their objectives out on the table for all to see, it is no difficult task for Russia to gain the upper hand. 

For example, a top priority for the United States is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  A top priority for Iran is to maintain its sovereign control over the nuclear program.  During the last Bush administration, Russia skillfully navigated the waters in between the two, agreeing to back UNSC sanctions against Iran in exchange for Washington’s acceptance of fuel sales to the Bushehr reactor (for which Russia receives a sizable profit).  And though this may look like splitting the difference, rest assured that there is a lot more that Russia wants from Washington than this, so it has chosen to continue dancing with Iran a little while longer. 

Near the top of this list of demands is a promise from Washington not to go ahead with its plans for missile defense in Europe.  So if Obama really wants Russia’s help in the Security Council on Iran, he’ll have to give up on the proposed sites, which he apparently has agreed to do. 

Now let’s not forget that America didn’t become a superpower by getting pushed around in the United Nations; the US has some leverage over Russia in this dance as well. 

Moscow badly wants last year’s 123 agreement to pass through Congress so it can receive highly valuable technical assistance from American nuclear scientists.  But Obama has been in no rush to give it to them without some reason to do so.  And after last year’s crisis in Georgia, Russia is still in the doghouse in the eyes of much of the international community–a situation which Washington could easily manipulate in either direction. 

Iran, not surprisingly, is in the weakest position of the three.  But after going through most of the 20th century with the superpowers meddling in its internal affairs (to the point of an occupation in 1945 and a coup de t’at in 1953), Iran is desperate to protect its independence and will pump itself up in any way possible.  That makes Iran the X-factor in this trio: Iran at any given moment could do something wildly unpredictable that changes the entire calculus–whether it’s testing a long-range missile or electing a reformist in a democratic election–there’s no telling what it might be. 

One final point about the news today.  According to the above report, Obama is willing to trade the European missile defense program in exchange for Russia’s “help in resolving Iran’s nuclear program.” 

In my view, Russia put forth years ago one of the most sensible proposals for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program to date.  Unfortunately, Iran refused the deal outright, but that is not necessarily a reflection on the Moscow proposal, which was exceedingly original.  Russia has by no means been the best of partners for the US trying to contain Iran’s nuclear program, but it appears to me that this latest gesture from the Obama White House is meant more as an indication of its policy toward gaining influence with Moscow than its earnest pursuit of tougher UNSC sanctions against Iran.  And it might just be an incredibly prudent move for Obama: if he can bring Russia in tighter while at the same time getting a closer hold on the Iranian nuclear program, then when the music stops the United States just might find itself in rhythm for the first time in awhile.

Posted By Patrick Disney

    One Response to “Obama “ready to drop missile shield for Russian help on Iran””

  1. jesse says:

    this is one of the stupidest things I have heard of.

    they want us to take down a defensive program so they can talk about peace. the point of the shield is to prevent missles from being lanuched. this is just one way that Russia is trying to have the US lower its gaurd. plus this will never happen now that North Korea decided to bully everyone.
    I don’t see the point in why he would not want the shield unless he really does not want peace.

    posted 15 hours ago |

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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
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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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