Okay, we’ll talk to Iran…. (now what?)

Everyone–literally everyone –who favors diplomacy with Iran is asking the same question right now: What do we do now that Barack Obama is President?

For the last eight years, the pro-engagement community honed its defensive skills.  For the duration of the Bush regime, this rag-tag band of progressives, trade groups, security organizations, and religious groups was in the opposition, with more than a few people even making a career out of stopping war with Iran.   But all that changed on November 4.

We now find ourselves in the unfamiliar position of having an ally in the White House.  War is off the table, at least for the foreseeable future.  US diplomats will attend face-to-face meetings with the Iranians on the nuclear issue “from now on.” Even new sanctions are on hold until talks get underway.  So for those of us still working to promote diplomacy with Iran, what else is there to do?

The short answer: a lot.

First of all, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  While Obama is light-years beyond most other politicians on Iran, it’s too early to sit back and relax.  The well-organized and powerful Israel lobby that claimed credit for the Chas Freeman debacle is already working hard to undermine Obama’s plan for diplomacy with Iran.  Late last month, this same group produced a letter to the President regarding his stance on the Iran issue.  That letter, signed by senior Democratic members of Congress including the Majority Leader, the chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Energy and Commerce, and Intelligence Committees, plus the chairmen of the Subcommittees on Europe and the Middle East, recommended that a suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment program be the goal of any negotiations.  It also included a suggested time-table for diplomacy to extend “at most a few months,” after which the President should “immediately apply the tools at your disposal to increase economic pressure on the Iranians.”

What was conspicuously lacking from this letter was anything that could allow the reader to write it off as another neocon ploy–there were no Republican signatories (although I’m sure the line of Republican lawmakers just itching to sign on stretched around the block.)  There was also no sign of opposition to the President’s policy–the letter was couched in a respectful tone, with statements like “We write in strong agreement with your firm position.”  For lawmakers trying to maneuver around a President with soaring approval ratings like Obama’s, this was a smart move.

So if these lawmakers and the powerful interests groups backing them up get their way, the historic reopening of ties between the US and Iran will last about a couple of months, during which time American diplomats will be given an impossible task without any real support from back home, and which will only lead to the exact same place we were in this time last year.

So what can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen?

First, the most important thing for our Iran policy is to resist those calling for an arbitrary deadline on talks.  America has given sanctions thirty years to succeed and they haven’t worked yet.  It is naïve to think that diplomacy could have any chance of success in only a couple of months.

And though no one wants to let Iran use negotiations as a cover for advancing its nuclear program, the reality is that Iran has already crossed every threshold but the one that really matters: weaponization.

According to most estimates, Iran now has a sufficiently large stockpile of low-enriched uranium to develop a nuclear bomb if it chose to pursue one.  Iran hasn’t done this because it would be easily detected–Iran would have to kick out IAEA inspectors, pull out of the NPT, and re-route nuclear material–and of course once the international community knows that Iran is pursuing a weapon, it will take swift and decisive action.  So the only real deadline for talks to succeed is the one governed by Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon–anything else would just be rash.

Secondly, Congress needs to speak up.  The President has made no secret of his plan to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran, overturning three decades of American foreign policy on Iran.  Yet Congress has not made one gesture indicating approval of the President’s plan.  Congress has never passed a resolution supporting talks with Iran.  Ever.  And now the President of the United States is travelling around the world telling our allies that this will be our policy and the only thing Congress has gone on record for is sanctions.  That should change.

Congress right now has the opportunity to fix this, and do it in a way that will let members save face.  There is currently a bipartisan resolution in the House (H.Con.Res. 94), that calls for direct military-to-military negotiations for minimizing the risk of incidents between the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf.  This is a common-sense measure that will safeguard the lives of our men and women in uniform while strengthening our national and economic security.  It should be a no-brainer.

Members should use this opportunity to speak out on a bipartisan basis for talks with Iran–not because the President says so, or because they want to start “palling around” with the Ayatollahs–but because it is in our own national security interest to do so.  When it serves our national security interests, and protects the free flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, why shouldn’t members of Congress speak out in favor of talks with Iran?   Surely no one is in favor of an accidental war with Iran.

This would do two things: it would provide critical bipartisan support for a key facet of Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East; and it would put in place a sensible measure for protecting our ships and sailors in harm’s way.

With this, Congress can chip away at the notion that talking to Iran is something only liberals who are weak on defense can support.  Members should acknowledge that diplomacy with Iran is an effective way to achieve key American objectives. And members shouldn’t be nervous about pursuing what’s best for our national security.

So though President Obama has set out on the right path, there is still a lot more to be done in order to ensure his Iran policy is effective.  And that means a lot of us have a chance to do something we’re not used to: going on the offensive.

Posted By Patrick Disney

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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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