• 30 September 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

Potential Problems for Having Serious Negotiations

In the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs (Sep/Oct 2009), Deepak Malhotra wrote an interesting essay, “Without Conditions,” which discusses the problems with setting preconditions for diplomatic negotiations. While neither the P5+1 countries nor Iran have set actual preconditions for the Geneva talks with Iran, which Malhotra did warn against, his arguments can still be applied. Malhotra correctly suggests that:

Preconditions are appropriate only when they satisfy both criteria: the opponent is capable of meeting them, and doing so will not weaken its future leverage. Otherwise, they will serve no purpose except to create the impression that the other side has thwarted diplomatic efforts. Demands that ignore these criteria suggest either a flawed strategy or an attempt at political gamesmanship–or perhaps both.

Both sides of the upcoming talks have set implicit and mental preconditions for the talks and on themselves. Iran has refused to discuss its nuclear program, which is the 600-pound gorilla that Europe and the United States want to seriously talk about. The P5+1 countries have refused to not discuss Iran’s nuclear program, and seem to have made sanctions a moral imperative. Those positions make the results of the talks a foregone conclusion: sanctions by the West and the continuation of Iran’s nuclear program.

For political and public opinion reasons, the United States, Germany, France and Britain (four out of the six P5+1 countries) cannot allow the talks to pass by without discussing the perceived threat of Iran’s nuclear program in some sort meaningful way. It is impossible for those countries to meet Iran’s implicit demands. Due to internal pressures, a weakened Iranian government cannot concede to shut down its nuclear program. A majority of Iranians support the program, if not the government itself.

What is the point of negotiation if the parties involved refuse to discuss particular topics, or refuse to let go of issues? Negotiations should be open venues for the discussion of a variety of topics, no matter how politically sensitive. At the end of the day, Iran and the P5+1 nations know what each other ultimately desires to gain from the negotiations. Of course, if too many days pass without a concession and it appears that Iran will continue bobbing-and-weaving ad nauseam, then the United States and its allies always have the option to pull out of the talks and move onto other options.

Instead of focusing on Iran’s future ability to build a nuclear weapon, the United States and its allies could use tomorrow’s negotiations to try and remove or limit Iran’s ability to turn a weapons capability (which they already have) into a weapon itself.  Alternatively, Iran could be asked to quietly start to scale back or scrape its current ballistic missile program, which could then be used to calm Israel’s fears of a missile landing in Tel Aviv. This is a long shot certainly, and Iran would probably never agree to such a suggestion. At the least, it offers an alternative to dealing directly with Iran’s nuclear program, since Iran is not going to become a true nuclear threat for some time.

Iran and the P5+1 nations appear to have constructed blockades to true negotiation and diplomacy. They are approaching the negotiations like a competition that has a winner and a loser, and with preconceived notions of what success looks like. Negotiations, like any good compromise, should yield two losers (or two winners depending on your disposition). Any negotiations that manage to avoid war or sanctions that cripple a country’s population have not been total failures.

Posted By Matt Sugrue

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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.



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