• 5 August 2009
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • Diplomacy, Iran Election 2009

Gibbs’ “elected leader” gaffe

Robert GibbsA major controversy erupted yesterday when White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Ahmadinejad is Iran’s “elected leader.” NIAC has been told by a White House official that Gibbs was not recognizing Ahmadinejad as the winner of the most recent election, but was referring to the previous election.

For an administration that has taken pains not to take sides in Iran’s election dispute, this obviously wasn’t one of Gibbs’ best moments. The statement was quickly picked up by Iran’s state media.

In the absence of confirmation by other White House officials, this should be interpreted as a poorly constructed statement — not administration policy. The administration has been walking a tightrope, condemning the human rights abuses in Iran while allowing Iranians to sort out their own election dispute.

President Obama himself has been the main driver behind the American approach to Iran, and he will have the final word.

Update: Gibbs Clarifies Statement

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Gibbs walked back his statement about Ahmadinejad:

“Let me correct a little bit of what I said yesterday. I denoted that Mr. Ahmadinejad was the elected leader of Iran. I would say that’s not for me to pass judgment on,” Gibbs said.

“He’s been inaugurated. That’s a fact. Whether any election was fair, obviously the Iranian people still have questions about that, and we’ll let them decide about that.”

Posted By David Elliott

David Elliott is the Assistant Policy Director at the National Iranian American Council.

    6 Responses to “Gibbs’ “elected leader” gaffe”

  1. tehran says:

    Shame on you Gibbs! Shame on you Obama! You are siding with dictators.

  2. Artin says:

    NIAC has word from the White House that Gibbons made a gaffe- he did not recognize Ahmadinejad as the winner of this election

  3. Sasan says:

    A statement like this legitimizes the Ahmadinejad administration, and is actually “meddling” by the US. We need to write letters to the White House and protest this statement. At least until the White House retracts its statement and continues the “no meddling, but condemning human rights violations” policy.

  4. Pirouz says:

    Yes, the election is disputed. However, Ahmadinejad has been sworn in and unless he is forced to step down, he will be the President that the world, including the US, will have to deal with.

  5. eric says:

    I only care what President Obama has to say. Gibbs is not President, and Iranians need to remember that.

  6. Shima says:

    Gibbs speaks on behalf of the president. You couldn’t get me to say that Ahmadinejad is an “elected leader” even if you paid me. So for him to think of Ahmadinejad as an “elected leader” is inexcusable… even if it is a gaffe.

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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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