• 23 March 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • Congress, US-Iran War

Here is one of those policies that makes you scratch your head and wonder how its taken this long for things to get this bad between the U.S. and Iran: American and Iranian diplomats are actually BANNED from making ANY contact with one another without prior authorization.

That’s right–while the entire foreign policy establishment in Washington is running around in circles trying to figure out the magic solution to crack the U.S.-Iran riddle–Is it sanctions? Is it more war threats? Is it strikes?  Dare we enter negotiations?–the two governments aren’t even talking to each other at the most basic levels.

Thankfully, a commonsense and long overdue proposal has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and nine other Representatives to dispense with the absurd “no contact” policy on the U.S. side.  The bill, the Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act (H.R.4173) would finally lift the ban on talking to Iran.  Not only would eliminating this policy put us in a much better position to resolve the standoff, it will put the onus on the Iranians to take the necessary steps to end their own restrictions on contact with the U.S.

While the silent treatment may be a good tool for passive aggressive teenagers to resolve tiffs with their siblings, it’s utility as a tool of statecraft on the world stage is pretty dubious.  When you’re trying to prevent war, nuclear proliferation, and human rights abuses, it can help to have diplomats who are allowed to do their job rather than a policy of righteous indignation.

Former Ambassador James Dobbins–who has directly negotiated with Iran–argued for lifting the ban in 2009, saying it could “enable both sides to more accurately gauge the other’s real intentions, interests and possible areas of flexibility” and eliminate some of the pressure and hype that has undermined high-level diplomacy.  “No negotiation can yield results if the two sides feel compelled to hold a news conference every time they meet,” wrote Dobbins.

To that end, H.R.4173 would also appoint a high-level U.S. envoy to lead and sustain direct, bilateral and multilateral talks with Iran.  The goal would be to actually invest in pursuing our interests that are only achievable through direct diplomacy.  These include not just resolving the nuclear standoff and preventing war–pretty important goals in their own right that have no military fix–but also delving into the equally critical issues like human rights that have never been on the table because we’re not talking (and when we do, it is for 45 minutes and never broadened beyond the nuclear issue).

Ask Iranians who are actually on the ground whether sanctions and threats of war are doing any favors for Iran’s human rights situation.  Unlike what you’ll hear from neoconservative “experts”–who want to bring freedom to the Iranian people even if they have to kill every last one of them–the current standoff has choked off Iranian civil society.  For the grownups in the room, direct talks can ratchet down tensions and open up space within Iran for the human rights and democracy movement to flourish.

H.R.4173 also has another component that makes perfect sense but will upset the pro-war crowd: it takes war of choice with Iran off the table.  The bill states clearly that–in lieu of an actual Congressional authorization for war–no U.S. government funds may be allocated to a war with Iran.  This may be commonsense and technically already the law of the land; unfortunately, amidst the threat inflation and demonization of diplomacy occurring in Washington and Tehran, commonsense has been altogether too uncommon.

To tell your Member of Congress to sign on to the Lee bill, you can send a message here.

H.R.4173 Sponsors:

Rep Barbara Lee [D-CA]
Rep John Conyers Jr. [D -MI]
Rep Keith Ellison [D-MN]
Rep Bob Filner [D-CA]
Rep Sheila Jackson Lee [D-TX]
Rep Walter Jones Jr. [R-NC]
Rep Dennis Kucinich [D-OH]
Rep Pete Stark [D-CA]
Rep Maxine Waters [D-CA]
Rep Lynn Woolsey [D-CA]

Posted By Jamal Abdi

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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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