• 3 December 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy, Human Rights in Iran

What Obama didn’t say on Tuesday night

photo credit: The White House, Pete Souza

Tuesday night, President Obama delivered a much-anticipated speech on the situation in Afghanistan.  He announced that he will be sending 30,000 additional troops in the first part of 2010, and will begin withdrawing troops in the Summer of 2011.

The speech made no direct references to Iran, and only vaguely touched on Obama’s nuclear nonproliferation strategy in general.  But according to Jim Fine at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, President Obama “missed a golden opportunity” in the speech to kick-start the stalled diplomacy with Iran.

In October, 2001, American military and diplomatic officials began meeting privately with officials from Iran to discuss the impending war in Afghanistan.  Following the September 11th attacks, America’s mission in Afghanistan was to root out al Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban–a mission that Iran shared with us and actually supported.

Over the next few months, American and Iranian officials worked together on countless issues involving the war against the Taliban, as has been well documented by Amb. James Dobbins and Hillary Mann Leverett, both of whom participated in these discussions with Iranians.  According to Dobbins, the Iranian delegation provided extremely valuable contributions to the formation of the Afghan provisional government, even working to ensure that Afghan elections will be fair and democratic.  Leverett has recounted stories of her Iranian counterpart going so far in their cooperation as to pull out a map of Afghan territory and pointing out locations that American planes should bomb.

The cooperation between the US and Iran on Afghanistan was fruitful and unprecedented.  Unfortunately, it came to an end when President Bush declared Iran to be part of the “Axis of Evil.”

But here is what Obama missed on Tuesday night: we need all the help we can get in Afghanistan right now.  We’ve asked for troop commitments from NATO partners, but most likely won’t get more than a couple thousand.  President Obama should have lamented the end of US-Iranian cooperation on Afghanstan in his speech on Tuesday as an effective tool that we no longer have at our disposal.  “Isn’t it a shame,” he should have said “that we responded so callously to Iran’s cooperation?”  And yet, isn’t it such a shame also that Iran’s behavior in recent weeks on the nuclear negotiations make it impossible for us to cooperate on Afghanistan the way we did before?

The United States should be willing to cooperate with Iran on Afghanistan, and should not hold hostage every other issue of potential mutual cooperation just because there has been no progress in the nuclear talks.  In fact, all sides claim to want to build confidence through the negotiations; what better way to build confidence than to work together on critical issues?

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran John Limbert has said “If we focus solely on the nuclear issue when dealing with Iran, we will fail.” It’s in America’s best interest to raise human rights concerns in dealing with Iran, and it’s in America’s best interest to work together with Iran on areas of mutual concern.

We have a job to do in Afghanistan, and it won’t be easy.  If Iran becomes a useful partner again, and helps us defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, then I suspect a little bit of the mistrust that has made negotiations so difficult up to now will begin to evaporate.

Posted By Patrick Disney

    6 Responses to “What Obama didn’t say on Tuesday night”

  1. Pirouz says:

    Patrick, I couldn’t agree with you more. But do you really think for a second that Obama’s pro-Zionist handlers would permit such a thing? They will not.

    At the very minimum, NATO/ISAF should be cooperating closely with Iran over Afghan drug interdictions. But no.

    That the US occupation has generated such a corrupt narco-state of this size and magnitude attests to the utter incompetency of the entire eight year operation.

  2. Rob says:

    Yes, it is a shame that this little known cooperation was thrown to the wind. It could have led to a real opening between countries. This Iran is a different animal from the one that cooperated with us in 2001. The IRGC is the defacto ruling junta and they show no signs of trustworthiness. They probably don’t even trust each other. Like Stalin’s Soviet Union, it doesn’t seem to take much to get thrown in prison on some ridiculous trumped up charges.

  3. Pirouz says:

    Trustworthy? It’s been trusty towards the government of Iraq, providing peace deals between the IA and Mahdi Army. It’s been trusty towards Venezuela, providing solid economic and diplomatic ties. Likewise, it’s provided a generous economic (and military) lifeline to the people of Lebanon, during and after the 33 day war.

    I could go on an on. But you see my point.

    Don’t believe all the hype you read in the Western media. And don’t forget that Khamenei is still the Supreme Leader. Just because certain reform politicians have marginalized themselves into irrelevance, does not alter the fact that Iran does have a potential role to play in Afghanistan (as it has demonstrated time and time again in Iraq).

  4. kahkashaan says:

    I think we should stop worrying about the lost opportunities in the Bush era and focus on current events. At the moment, it is IRI, which is ignoring all reconciliation gestures from Obama. Khamenei has acknowledged that Obama has communicated with him through written letters and other channels, but he decided to reject them until US CHANGES its policies. That is, just at the time when US dropped her preconditions for direct negotiations, IRI decided to impose one of its own. Post-election events in Iran has made it abundantly clear that IRI is using the claim of foreign intervention to suppress domestic discontent. It claims that domestic opposition is just a tool in the hands of the US, British, Israel, etc to launch a velvet revolution. The show trials of Islamic reformists, journalist and human rights activists were all to convince the public that millions of people who poured into streets were bunch of misguided souls who were corrupted by western influence. Arts, culture, and humanities, independent papers and internet, are al being blamed for this corrupting influence. To cure it, they are applying across-the-board censorship, and have launched a second Islamic Cultural revolution to cleanse the educational system – from the elementary schools all the way to the universities. IRI NEEDs the fictional threat from the west. It just thwarted the offer of west to exchange its low-enriched uranium for 20% enriched U needed to fuel Tehran’s research reactor, despite the fact that it could have been done through Turkey; a trustworthy friend of IRI. Then to add insult to injury, it announced its childish plans to construct 10 more Natanz-size enrichment facilities – a laughable bluster. I think the time has come for us to stop blaming the west, and acknowledge the fact that IRI has become a theocratic-military regime, which is first and foremost interested in its survival. For the moment, it has opted for confrontation with the west, regardless of what the US or the west would offer to deescalate the tensions.

  5. Pirouz says:

    I disagree kahkashaan.

    First of all, what government in the world does not prioritize survival as the number one priority? Just for an example, why do you think the US stockpiles thousands of nuclear warheads?

    I don’t believe post-election results are reflected in any of Iran’s international moves. And I do not believe take-it-or-leave-it nuclear offers offer much (if any) difference to pre-conditions. Furthermore, don’t shy way from the fact that, for its own part, Iran has mede many compromise offers to the West over the nuclear dispute. The Turkey offer was rejected, but the counter-offer of a swap in Iran under full IAEA safeguards was made but rejected by the West.

    There are reports that, technically speaking, the conversion and fuel rod fabrication is achievable in 2 months. Yet the West’s timetable for such is a period of over seven months. Ask yourself why.

    Anyway, we’re drifting off topic here.

  6. kahkashaan says:

    Hello Pirouz,
    The question is not whether or not IRI is the only regime that is interested in its self preservation. Rather, if an oppressive and antidemocratic regimes that kill, jail, rape and torture its non-violent citizenry (that has dared to ask for respect for basic human rights) deserves to perpetuate its rule. If the answer is no, then any of the policies and actions that help prolong its brutal rule should be condemned. It is only in this light that we could defend or condemn domestic and international policies of IRI. IRI has figured out that escalation of the tensions around the nuclear issue is a win-win scenario. That explains its current policies, including its refusal to go through with the 20% enriched fuel deal, followed by announcement of plans to build 20 more Natanz-size enrichment facilities, which everybody agrees is an unrealistic dream that is only meant to provoke a harsh reaction from the west. It figures out that if the west allows this plan to go ahead, it has established “facts on the ground,” which can be used as bargaining chips down the road. On the other hand, if Israel takes the bait and launches an air attack, it would be a god-sent gift to IRI that would mobilize the public and rescue it from its current crisis. I personally believe that Israel has no intention of attacking Iran, because it knows it is ineffective in stopping IRI’s weapon program. Nevertheless, it keeps talking about this possibility to (a) extract concessions from the US vis-a-vis the Palestinian problem. and (b) to induce the P5+1 to impose harsher sanctions. I am surprised that sophisticated analysts (such as Trita) have fallen for this trap and are still worried about a military strike against IRI. A free and democratic government in Iran is the best insurance policy we all have that a nuclear-enabled Iran behaves responsibly, and does not pose a threat to its neighbors.

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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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