• 21 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

The “Japan Option” and Nuclear Negotiations

When discussing nuclear weapons programs, the “Japan Option” refers to a country putting its nuclear weapons program in a holding pattern. For example, Japan has the equipment and expertise to develop a nuclear weapon within eighteen months, but has never tested such a weapon. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, Mark Medish published an op-ed in the New York Times today in which he suggests the “Japan Option” as a viable end-game solution for talks with Iran.

This is not to suggest that Iran is currently pursuing nuclear weapons, since the findings of the 2007 NIE have yet to be overturned. It is, however, an acknowledgment of the realpolitik fact that at least some segments of the Iranian government would certainly like to possess a nuclear weapon. The benefit of the “Japan Option” would be that those groups in Iran that desire a nuclear weapon will be provided the security of knowing that such a weapon is easily within their grasp. At the same time, Iran’s Arab neighbors, the United States, Israel and Europe will be provided with “inspections, surveillance and early warning.” 

As Medish points out, the big sticking point to achieving the negotiated settlement along the lines of the “Japan Option” is that,

To achieve such a framework would require at least minimal trust between Iran and the West, and also Russia, Israel and the Arab states. A good context would be engaging Iran across a wider frontier of regional security issues.

The trouble is that trust is awfully low between the United States and Iran. Who will move first?

Due to serious domestic fissures, the Iranians may not have the confidence to move in this direction. In a sense, no Iranian leader wants to be a Gorbachev, presiding over regime collapse. All want to be a Putin presiding over consolidation.

As with most international problems, the current issue of Iran’s nuclear program boils down to a lack of trust and fear of being perceived of as weak. If proposed the United States would do well to a settlement that was modeled along the lines of the “Japan Option.” Doing so would not be “appeasement” or “giving in.” Instead, it would be a clearheaded effort to get right to the heart of the matter: some factions of Iran’s government want nuclear weapons, and most of the rest of the world does not want them to achieve that goal.

A negotiated settlement along the lines of the “Japan Option” would be a very good compromise. While it would certainly upset groups within all the governments involved, it would also provide each side with safety nets. Such an agreement would go a long way towards appeasing those groups in Iran that desire a nuclear weapon, and, at the same time, it would provide Iran’s neighbors with a sense of security. Finally, a “Japan Option”-style agreement would also allow the United States to begin engaging Iran more forcefully over its deplorable human rights record.

Posted By Matt Sugrue

    One Response to “The “Japan Option” and Nuclear Negotiations”

  1. Pirouz says:

    “some factions of Iran’s government want nuclear weapons”


    Matt, which high ranking Iranian official has publicly made this declaration? Specifically, which faction are you referring to? Please provide the exact sources for your contention.

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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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