• 3 January 2010
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Sanctions

U.S. Decides to Punish Iranian Regime, Not People

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post

Last week countless protesters across Iran made yet another brave stand against their government, in an event that had political reverberations across the world. The continued demonstration of strength by the Iranian opposition has not only showed the increasing isolation of Iran’s ruling elite, but also helped cement a dramatic policy shift that has been quietly taking shape in the White House. Rather than pursuing “crippling sanctions” against Iran’s entire economy — and crushing the middle class that makes up the backbone of the opposition movement — the White House has decided to instead focus harsh sanctions on specific elements of the Iranian government, according to senior administration officials speaking to the Washington PostLA Times, and Reuters. This is the culmination of a dramatically changed debate in Washington, and comes in stark contrast to the indiscriminate approach many in Congress favor. But it is exactly the approach that prominent leaders in the green movement and groups like the National Iranian American Council have supported for months.

The administration appears to have decided that its first rule should be to do no harm to the opposition movement, which is gaining strength and momentum despite six months of violent repression and intimidation. “We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy,” a senior U.S. official told the Post. “We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation — whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame.”

Simply by surviving and refusing to be beaten down, the grassroots uprising in Iran is succeeding and forcing Iran’s security forces to decide which side of history they want to defend. Thus, it is imperative that the United States not undermine Iran’s best hope for a brighter future just to apply indiscriminate sanctions that virtually no one believes will succeed in curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, the administration’s efforts are designed to pressure Iran’s ruling elite back to the negotiating table, but without sacrificing the Green movement to do it. It’s a strategy that implicitly supports the opposition, but does not rely on it.

But targeted sanctions do not mean toothless sanctions. Iranian government officials and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), with its many corporate subsidiaries and front companies, will be the primary subject of these sanctions. Newsweek recently reported “U.S. and European officials have accumulated a lot more intelligence in recent years about the Guards’ business activities–including which IRGC officials have investments and where.”

The administration’s decision to pursue these targeted sanctions means the administration will resist the indiscriminate sanctions racing through Congress, according to the news reports. While the administration will need to show some backbone to keep Congress from undermining the more sophisticated strategy being put together by the White House, the debate in Washington has changed dramatically in the past six months. The bravery of the Iranian people, shared with the world through YouTube and Twitter, speaks for itself. Meanwhile, groups like the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its allies have been pounding home the message that the United States cannot say it supports the Iranian people while trying simultaneously to impoverish them or deprive them of winter heating oil.

NIAC President Trita Parsi provided testimony to Congress explaining the flaw in the thinking of those who think that inflicting more economic pain on the Iranian people would be a good thing, as if they weren’t already suffering enough at the hands of their government or weren’t upset enough about the blood on the regime’s hands:

What caused Iranians to rise up in June was not economic hardship, but dashed hopes in anger over the fraudulent election. Whereas economic hardships have prompted sporadic protests, hope has brought millions into the streets in a sustained manner. Experience shows that when broad, untargeted sanctions hitting the Iranian people are adopted, the first casualty is hope. Economic misery breeds despair, which in turn kills people’s faith in their ability to bring about change. The result is political apathy, which only cements the status quo and serves the interest of the political faction around Ayatollah Khamenei.

Even Congress is responding to that message. Shortly before Congress adjourned for Christmas, Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jim Moran (D-VA) introduced the Stand With the Iranian People Act and the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act, respectively. Both these bills make very clear that sanctions that do not target the Iranian government and instead needlessly hurt the Iranian people aren’t just wrong – they are against U.S. national interests and hurt the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy. The White House understands this, and is showing tremendous leadership in heeding its own better judgment, rather than kowtowing to the forces of the status quo.

Posted By David Elliott

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

    2 Responses to “U.S. Decides to Punish Iranian Regime, Not People”

  1. Publicola says:


    • From a European perspective and for European circumstances and conditions it is absolutely not clear, what the Iranian government or commentators like “Anonymous” are driving at and why.
    • Crystal-clear however as to Iran is, that for the presidential candidate Moussavi the election results of 33.75% was communicated directly after polling booths had been closed through government-official sources, as well as the figure of 36.33% for the oppositional candidates taken together.
    In other words: more than one third of the Iranien constituency decided for a change of political emphasis or a policy shift (on the strength of probable vote-rigging, the election result of the opposition and thus the overall proportion of the electorate is assumed to be higher)
    • QUESTION: What does an election result of approx. 35% mean under e.g. from a European perspective ?
    • ANSWER: e.g. the German ecological party „The Greens “ was elected into parliament in 2009 with 10,7%. This long-term percentage of about 10% – a relatively modest and small figure when compared to the current Iranian election result has led to the fact that all parties in Germany (and in Europe, where the ecological parties have been achieving similar results over the long term) are not able to exist without a pronounced ecological and environmental party program.
    The German Social-Democrats (SPD) and the ecological “Green-Party” taken together have achieved an election result of 33,7% (national election 2009) !
    • CONCLUSION: Which politician in the whole of Europe, who is not out of his senses or completely inebriated or under the influence of heavy drugs, could and would consider an election result of more than 30% modest, small and to be disregarded or could and would even ignore it?

  2. میترا ایراندخت says:

    Though I agree with the necessity of putting more pressure on the putschists, even targeted sanctions are unlikely to reach the goal. As Mr Mashayekhi noted on VOA, they are only the first step towards war.

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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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