• 16 December 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • US-Iran War

Always assuming the worst with Iran

Today we awoke to an AFP report that Iran had been caught red-handed trying to smuggle “nuclear material” out of Russia.  According the report, in response to this illegal act “a criminal enquiry has been launched.”  The report seemed to confirm many people’s beliefs about Iran’s willingness to use any means at its disposal, illicit or otherwise, in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Iran hawks have long been trying to compile evidence ranging from IAEA reports to “laptops of death” to support such assertions.  And no doubt today’s report about a furtive attempt to smuggle nuclear material into Iran must surely be one more piece of evidence demonstrating Iran’s efforts and intentions to pursue nuclear weapons. Right?

Wrong.  As more information emerged it turned out that the nuclear material was not weapons grade uranium or anything of the sort that could be used for any military purpose, but a rather innocuous radioactive isotope.  According to an ABC report:

On closer examination the isotope was identified as Na22, which is used in medicine.  It is commonly used to trace sodium in the body. It cannot be used in the production nuclear weapons.

While it is sometimes overlooked, there are very legitimate usages for nuclear material that range from civilian energy production to treating cancer.  In fact, Russia has an agreement in place with Iran to supply medical isotopes, such as Na22.   Such an agreement could mean that today’s “smuggling” of nuclear material is connected to a legitimate and recognized purpose, and not some nefarious militarized nuclear program.

Today’s revelations regarding this incident should illustrate two points.

First, while there is ample reason to be concerned about Iran’s intentions regarding its nuclear enrichment program, it is not necessarily the case that their only interests here are related to a weapons program.  In fact, if one recalls Ahmadinejad recently extended an offer, which he may or may not currently have the authority to follow through on, to end Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 20% in exchange for the U.S. agreeing to sell Iran nuclear material for it medical research reactor.   Perhaps the U.S. would be well advised to revisit such a deal that would prevent Iran from producing additional highly enriched uranium that can be used in a military program, in exchange for nuclear material that is only suitable for medical purposes.

Second, the U.S. must be careful to not be so quick to jump to conclusions regarding Iran and its nuclear ambitions.  If today’s incident tells us anything it is that things are not always as they appear at first glance, and that by always assuming the worst about Iran we run risk of making incorrect judgments.  As such, we must always be on guard against such hastiness.  Lest, with tensions already so high, one county’s precipitous rush to action leads to the type of miscalculation that then Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen warned about.  All things considered, perhaps we should just be glad that Perry, Romney, Cheney, et al didn’t call in a military strike to destroy/seize the materials before we figured out it was medicine.

Posted By Loren White

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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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