• 9 September 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Heffner
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a wide-ranging speech yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations on the current and future United States role in the international community.  In addition to commenting on general trends and intentions, Secretary Clinton discussed many individual policy issues, one of which was Iran.  She described how the United States is engaged in diplomatic efforts to pull Iran into compliance with the global non-proliferation regime and to provide Iran  a route back “into the community of nations.”  She explained how this diplomatic posture allowed the administration to use “classic shoe-leather diplomacy” to put strong international sanctions in place.

“The choice for Iran’s leaders is clear”, Clinton said, ” and they have to decide whether they accept their obligations, or increasing isolation and the costs that come with it. And we will see how Iran decides. “

A few of Secretary Clinton’s remarks are encouraging, particularly her assurance that the Administration remains committed to talks.  “[S]anctions and pressures… are not ends in themselves,” she said, “They are the building blocks of leverage for a negotiated solution.”  Certainly this administration has been at least willing to give lip service to public diplomacy and engagement efforts with the Iranian government, something the previous US administration in its single-minded focus on regional change through hard power failed to try.

However, although the administration’s positions on some issues within Iran are encouraging, they have failed to integrate their approaches into a strategy for a true solution.  For example, Secretary Clinton’s insistence that sanctions and pressures are “building blocks of leverage” ignores situations when those “leverage points” actually undermine constructive engagement efforts, like the passage of new sanctions that undercut the Tehran Declaration.  Genuine opportunities for engagement between the US and Iran are rare.  The administration should not eschew negotiations opportunities to pursue further punitive sanctions that will not go any farther towards resolving the Iranian nuclear debate. 

Furthermore, Secretary Clinton’s description of the engagement offered by the United States to Iran included her saying that, “Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we… are removing all of those excuses for lack of progress.”  This quote indicates that she sees  engagement as a necessary step before other things like sanctions and pressure are applied.  The positioning of engagement as merely another tool to “check off the list” before others are tried ignores the fundamental need for some sort of strategic relationship based on mutual dialogue between the United States and Iranian leaders in order to solve the dispute between both countries.  A half-hearted engagement policy will, at best, produce half-hearted results.

The impression you are left with after hearing Secretary Clinton’s remarks is that there is still a gap between what the Obama administration says it wants to achieve and what it actually has done vis-à-vis Iran.  Emphasizing long-term negotiated solutions is important.  Still, the administration needs to significantly boost the credibility of its engagement efforts with Iran before more scholars start comparing the administration’s policies with Obama’s predecessor-in-chief, something he just might find less than flattering.

Posted By Patrick Heffner

    One Response to “Clinton’s Rhetoric on Iran: Does It Match the Administration’s Actions?”

  1. Pirouz says:

    Another good post.

    I agree. As Stephen M. Walt puts it, we merely have a “Bush-lite” in office, when it comes to Iran policy. Or as I put it, as someone who fell for Obama the candidate, hook, line and sinker: “Where is my vote?”

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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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