• 18 July 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Sanctions

Smart Sanctions

New sanctions have caused ETS, the Educational Testing Service, to block Iranian students from taking standardized tests required for Western educations, such as the TOEFL and the GRE.

From ETS’s website:

Registration temporarily suspended in Iran

The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution affecting banks and financial institutions that conduct business in Iran. As a result of this resolution, ETS is currently unable to process payments from Iran and has had to temporarily suspend registration until alternative arrangements can be made. Please check back after July 22 for an update.

This means it will now be even harder for Iranian students to study in the US, since these tests are a prerequisite for most admissions applications.  Iranian students already face an inordinately strict visa process in which they are only eligible for single-entry visas.  This policy is unique to Iran in the Middle East, by the way; Saudi students, Syrian students, Lebanese students — they are all eligible for multiple-entry visas, yet Iran is not.

But what is most troubling about this newest impact of sanctions is that it runs directly counter to the stated interests of US foreign policy on Iran.

In Obama’s Nowruz address last March, he said:

[E]ven as we continue to have differences with the Iranian government, we will sustain our commitment to a more hopeful future for the Iranian people. For instance, by increasing opportunities for educational exchanges so that Iranian students can come to our colleges and universities

This commitment was echoed every time the Administration stressed the targeted nature of these new sanctions; that they will impose penalties on Iran’s government — not its people.  And yet, the reality continues to prove otherwise.

There is even reason to believe this unforeseen consequence of sanctions runs counter to our covert operations involving Iran.  The so-called “brain drain” program which seeks to lure Iranian nuclear scientists to defect surely involves some type of academic cover.  That was clearly the case with Shahram Amiri’s bizarre ordeal, since his CIA handlers set him up with a university posting in Arizona.  The point of any type of “brain drain” program is to lure the current generation — and perhaps more importantly the next generation — of intellectual leaders in fields like nuclear science out of the country.  The single most effective tool in reaching that goal is simply getting them to study in US universities while they’re young.  We have the best colleges in the world, and oftentimes that experience is transformative.

Sadly, the unintended consequences of sanctions continue to have the exact opposite effect of President Obama’s goal of distinguishing between the Iranian government and its people.  And three decades of evidence suggests that the Iranian government gains enormously every time we make that same mistake.

Posted By Patrick Disney

    5 Responses to “Smart Sanctions”

  1. Pirouz says:

    Disappointing, but not at all surprising.

    Patrick, you must realize that sanctions against Iran are anti-Iran, period.

    This nonsense about targeting a government is exactly that. And while anecdotally, Iranians inside Iran knock their government, so do many Americans. This kind of thing is typical. But these folks are not anti-IRI, as seen by multiple polling data.

    You can’t expect sanctions to somehow favor a minority political faction that doesn’t possess a great deal of relevancy to Iran’s current governmental makeup. This is highly unrealistic thinking.

    There should be no complicity in supporting any form of sanctions against the people of Iran, whatsoever.

  2. James Powell says:

    Dear NIAC,
    You mention that Iranian students are the only individuals issued single entry visas to the US? Compare to Saudi Arabia, I fail your comparison test and logic! Could you tell me how many American students are allowed access to study in Iranian universities. We allow them to our universities and educate themselves and go back and shout “Death to America”. Why should we let them in? If Islamic Republic is listed as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and is busy building nuclear weapons to wipe Israel off the map?

  3. Alireza says:

    Pirouz’s propaganda and advocacy on behalf of the IRI notwithstanding, sanctions against the IRI are “anti-Iran” to the same extent that sanctions against South Africa were “anti-South Africa”. I think readers will be able to grasp the inanity of his “arguments” rather easily.

  4. Iranian-American says:


    I would disagree. I think that supporting or defending a government that violates the Iranian peoples basic human rights and arrests and kills Iranian people for peaceful demonstrations is anti-Iran. I think that supporting or defending a government that ruining the Iranian nation economically and culturally is anti-Iran. It is the Iranian government that is doing those things.

    Again, you refer to polling data which was gathered by telephone in a country where the population is monitored by the government and can be persecuted (e.g. kidnapped, tortured and even killed) for opposing the government. With all due respect, but that’s just about as stupid as believing Saddam Hussein was the democratically elected leader of Iraq with an amazing 99.9% vote. My grandmother is too afraid to mention anything about the election to us on the phone for fear of being monitored.

    You claimed to have gone to Iran. I find it curious that you are the only person that I know that has been to Iran and has not witnessed first hand just how much the Iranian people despise their government. It is nothing like the US…

  5. Saeed (Another Iranian-American) says:

    Pirouz said: “sanctions against Iran are anti-Iran, period.”. Well Sir… that is what ‘against’ means!

    Sir, we have enough anti-american Iranian-Americans here as it is. Now you are complaining about student visas!

    Many people (NIAC included), expect US government to do nothing about Iran. War is criminal, Sanctions are against people, and supporting movements in Iran is interference. Just let them be… I disagree.

    A country is made of people. If their political system fails, they are supposed to change it. Period.

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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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