• 21 November 2011
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • Legislative Agenda, Sanctions, UN

New Iran sanctions coming today

Today the US and UK will announce a new round of sanctions against Iran.  With so many existing sanctions in place, it is helpful to unpack exactly what additional measures are now being enacted.

The UK will implement the “nuclear option” of sanctioning Iran’s central bank, Bank Markazi, severing all ties with Iranian banks:

From 1500 GMT on Monday, all UK credit and financial institutions are required to cease all transactions with banks including the Central Bank of Iran.

It is the first time the UK has cut off a country’s banking sector in this way.

The US on the other hand will not issue blanket sanctions against Iran’s central bank just yet, but will instead designate Iran and its central bank as a “primary money laundering concern” which could prepare the ground for central bank sanctions in the future:

US officials said this new action would serve as a warning to governments and businesses in Europe, Asia and Latin America to wind down their ties to Bank Markazi and their purchases of Iranian crude oil, as even tougher actions likely will be coming down the road.

The Obama Administration is hoping to avoid an oil price spike that could result from issuing blanket sanctions on the Central Bank, stopping just short of taking direct  measures to immediately punish any country or company purchasing energy from Iran:

“This allows foreign countries to think about how to protect themselves and wean themselves off Iranian oil in a way that doesn’t disrupt the energy markets,” a senior US official briefed on the new action said. “This says: ‘You should be thinking quite seriously about cutting off your ties to the central bank’.”

The measure would, “require American banks to conduct additional reporting to ensure their corresponding foreign accounts are not indirectly dealing with Iran.  That extra vigilance, officials say, will have a cascade effect where foreign financial institutions are more reluctant to do business with Iran.”

This builds on the U.S. policy regarding financial sanctions on Iran, “deliberate ambiguity,” which is designed to convince companies and countries that all transactions—even legal ones that support U.S. interests, such as providing Internet communication software or sending humanitarian goods to the people of Iran—carry so much potential risk that they are not worth it.  As a result, we have seen numerous tools for Iranians to communicate blocked by U.S. companies and a marked decline in the legal export of food, medicine, and humanitarian goods to Iranians.

But it is unlikely that such action by the President will be enough to stave off Congressional pressure for blanket central bank sanctions.  Two dueling proposals in Congress are set to go to a vote next week—one, introduced by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) would implement Central Bank sanctions immediately, giving no discretion to the president; the other, sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) would require the president to issue a decision within 30 days on whether Iran’s central bank meets the legal requirement for sanctions, giving him some limited flexibility.

The economic argument—that such measures will raise U.S. gas prices and risk triggering a global recession—has been considered secondary by many lawmakers to the need to enact harsher measures on Iran.

Finally, the U.S. will also issue sanctions today to build on sanctions signed into law last year preventing Iran from obtaining goods to enable it to refine petroleum for use as gasoline:

 Two US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the diplomatic sensitivities involved, say the State Department will sanction Iran’s petrochemical industry, which is normally used to produce products like plastic and styrofoam but is increasingly used to refine petroleum, as international sanctions have constrained the capacity of Iran’s energy sector.  The new measure aims to discourage foreign companies from investing in that industry because it could inadvertently aid Iran’s energy sector and undermine previous sanctions.

The unintended consequences of today’s actions will play themselves out in time.   When UN and U.S. sanctions were enacted last year, the first effect was that Iranian students seeking to study abroad in the U.S. and UK were denied access to necessary tests in order to do so.  Whether these measures will also raise energy costs and begin to punish ordinary citizens outside of Iran is another question.

Posted By Jamal Abdi

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7,349 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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