• 10 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file

Deal or No Deal, Talks Must Continue

The rigmarole surrounding the supposed failure of negotiations with Iran is causing the media and government to lose sight of what is really important: talking with Iran. Talking is, in and of itself, a confidence building measure. It allows for the growth of familiarity between the parties, and, therefore, greater confidence that the other side will honor any agreements. At this early stage, negotiations with Iran should be viewed as means to that end.

Negotiation is the ongoing process of discussion. A failure of negotiations, as they currently exist with Iran, would only really happen when the talking stops.  What is currently happening between the U.S. and Iran is a failure to compromise–it’s frustrating, seems like a deadlock, and feels like we’re banging our head against a brick wall.  But it’s not a failure. Further rounds of talks will beget further confidence from both sides, and toward that end even the stalemate over the Vienna proposal is not necessarily a cause for alarm.

The possibility of Iran gaining nuclear weapons in the future must be dealt with in a serious matter. But there is time before Iran will be able to construct a working nuclear weapon.

Various academics, members of the Arms Control Association, former ambassadors, former American Embassy hostages and Foreign Service officers have all said that the United States has time, plenty of time in fact, before Iran develops a workable nuclear weapon, let alone a workable long-range nuclear ballistic missile. The Obama Administration should embrace the lack of a compromise over Iran’s nuclear program to move onto other issues, such as human rights abuses or securing the release of the three American hikers being held in Iran.  Each of these alternative avenues could be an opportunity for Iran to prove its good-will, and we would do well to set up as many opportunities for Iran to gain back our trust as possible.

While the deal proposed by Elbaradei, whereby Iran would ship 75% of its fissile material out of the country, has been touted as a simple confidence boosting measure, it may be that both sides shot the moon in the first round and missed. The nuclear program is such a massive issue on both sides that a compromise was unlikely on the first go round of negotiations. A confidence-building move should be something small that both sides can easily agree to as they feel each other out. It was certainly worth a try to reach an agreement right from the start. It also was definitely worth bringing to the table so that there is no illusion on either side about the other’s desires.

In any trust exercise, you start with something small first. In fact, they are often referred to as trust exercises, plural. During corporate team building exercises, people do not first fall backwards with their eyes closed. Instead, they talk and share something about themselves. Then maybe some type of game that takes place with all eyes open. It is only once a rapport has been created, indeed a level of trust that the team building moves onto the more exciting trust exercises.  Right now, the US and Iran are nowhere near the “eyes closed, falling backwards” stage in their relationship.

There are, however, smaller issues that can be resolved between the United States and Iran that are better suited to function as a confidence building exercise. Why not spin the Lazy Susan of topics and start negotiating for the release of the hikers, greater cooperation on stemming the flow of drugs out of Afghanistan, or security in Iraq?  Best of all would be to see the failure to compromise as an opening to refocus the negotiations on the egregious human rights abuses that have been taking place in Iran before and after the June election.

If the current brouhaha about the failure of negotiations proves anything, then it is that setting timelines for negotiations is a very bad idea. This is especially true if the timeline is an order of magnitude shorter than it should be. Iran will not have workable nuclear weapons for a matter of years. Why then did the United States, and the other P5+1 countries, set a timeline of three months?

U.S.-Iran negotiations have not failed. They are ongoing. The failure to reach a compromise over nuclear enrichment is neither a harbinger of the end of negotiations, nor a signal that the time has come for sanctions. Reaching an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program will not be quick, and the process has only just begun. Luckily the United States and the other P5+1 countries have time to continue to process of negotiation and confidence building.

If the United States and Iran have failed to compromise over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, then it is time to move on to other issues; not read the negotiations their last rites.

Posted By Matt Sugrue

    2 Responses to “Deal or No Deal, Talks Must Continue”

  1. Pirouz says:

    Well stated, Matt.

    I would just add to your “Lazy Susan” of topics to include the US sanction on commercial aircraft parts and the funding of internal destabilization efforts, both of which are contributing factors in the deaths of Iranian citizens.

    I do have a couple of questions for you, though. In a potential negotiation over human rights, what sort of leverage do you anticipate for Iran in getting the present US administration to pursue criminal charges against authorities and legal experts responsible for the implementation of torture during the so-called GWOT?

    Also within the framework of potential human rights negotiations, what do you think the chances, if any, that Iran could induce the present US Administration to assist in the war crimes cases being heard in various nation’s courts against top Israeli officials responsible for the lethal human rights violations attributed to Operation Cast Lead?

  2. observing iran says:

    Great analytical work, in-depth stories which is hard to find in mainstream media. More of Trita Parsi’s articles and views


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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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