• 30 July 2009
  • Posted By Trita Parsi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Iran Election 2009

By Trita Parsi. Cross posted from Foreign Policy Magazine:

ahmadinejad_8No one said diplomacy with Iran would be easy. And now, before it even started, the Iranian election crisis has left Tehran politically paralyzed and Washington without a clear diplomatic path ahead. Iranian centrifuges keep spinning, leading some to think that September should be the deadline for Iran to accept the U.S. offer of talks. Although diplomacy must remain the policy, the momentous upheaval in Iran has completely changed the political landscape. Opening talks with Iran’s current government at this decisive moment could backfire severely. Indeed, now is the time for a tactical pause with Iran.

U.S. President Barack Obama has stated that the United States is in a wait-and-see mode until Iran’s post-election crisis comes to a conclusion. Clearly, that has not happened yet. The Iranian opposition is alive and kicking. Two weeks ago, former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani cast doubt on the election results during the Tehran Friday prayers, an important venue for political speeches. A day later, former President Mohammad Khatami upped the ante and called for a referendum on the elections and the government. And presidential hopeful Mir Hossein Mousavi continues to defy Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accusing him of insulting the Iranian nation by claiming that the protesters are acting on behalf of foreigners. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the official election winner, is entangled in a battle with conservatives over his cabinet picks.

The opposition’s resilience has clearly taken Ahmadinejad and Khamenei by surprise. At a minimum, the opposition has deprived Ahmadinejad of any sense of normalcy, forcing him to devote several hours a day to address the election dispute instead of advancing his own political agenda. Khamenei is increasingly resorting to warnings and threats rather than calls for unity and reconciliation. “The elite should be watchful, since they have been faced with a big test. Failing the test will cause their collapse,” Khamenei said last Monday in a speech that many perceived as verging on desperation. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad now seem to be off balance.

The dispute between the Ahmadinejad government and the opposition is about far more than a disputed election. It goes to the core question of whether there is a peaceful path toward changing Iran’s political system from within. For a population that is highly critical of the government, but values stability, the existence of such a path has been important. It enabled Iranians to push for gradual, controllable change without risking another revolution that could end up like the previous one, when one unpopular, repressive political system was replaced with another.

If Ahmadinejad succeeds in silencing his internal critics and opponents, many will conclude that this path has been closed. Iran cannot be changed through the ballot box if people’s votes won’t be honored. The likely result will be a radicalized population whose opposition to the government will be met with increased repression at home and more adventurism abroad.

The Obama administration should avoid repeating the key mistake of the Bush administration, for which Iran was solely viewed through the prism of its nuclear program. Delaying nuclear talks a few months won’t make a dramatic difference to Iran’s nuclear program. It could, however, determine which Iran America and the region will be dealing with for the next few decades — one in which democratic elements strengthen over time, or one where the will of the people grows increasingly irrelevant to Iran’s decision-makers.

Moreover, even nuclear talks would have a negligible impact on the election dispute, Iran currently is not in a position to negotiate. Some in Washington believe that the paralysis in Tehran has weakened Iran and made it more prone to compromise. But rather than delivering more, Iran’s government currently couldn’t deliver anything at all. The infighting has simply incapacitated Iranian decision makers.

Iran’s lack of capacity creates a tremendous danger for the White House. Of all scenarios the Obama administration could end up facing — an Iran that refuses to come to the table, for example, or an Iran that only uses talks to play for time — the worst scenario is another one: where the parties begin talks according to the set timetable, but fail to reach an agreement due to an inability to deliver. If talks fail, U.S. policymakers will be left with increasingly unpalatable options as a result.

Obama should not be married to any artificial deadlines. Pushing for talks now simply because he decided on a timetable before the elections could undermine the chances for diplomacy to succeed. Paradoxically, the best way to enhance prospects for diplomacy might actually be not to pursue diplomacy for now. Better instead to make a tactical pause, see how things develop, and be ready to engage at the right time.

Posted By Trita Parsi

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Sign the Petition

 

7,349 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.

Sincerely,

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