• 10 July 2013
  • Posted By Layla Oghabian
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2013, Sanctions

On Monday, July 1 new Executive and Congressional sanctions on Iran, put in place before Iran’s recent elections, came into force. These new sanctions target the shipping and automobile sectors, financial transactions involving gold, and holdings of Iran’s currency, the rial. These latest sanctions come amid a growing debate over whether sanctions could undermine diplomatic opportunities and moderates within Iran in the wake of Iran’s recent elections. However, there is little sign that the sanctions will abate, with the House of Representatives considering a floor vote on new, sweeping sanctions in the weeks before Iran’s President-elect, Hassan Rouhani, even enters office.

Rouhani’s ability to deliver and change the policies of the Iranian government remains a question mark. During his campaign, the former nuclear negotiator pledged to “pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace” with the outside world, release political prisoners, and potentially to make Iran’s nuclear program more transparent in order to ease tensions with the West.  But his political flexibility may be limited in the face of intensifying economic pressure and fear that the United States is only interested in regime change.

Some in Congress have been spurred by outside groups hostile towards a diplomatic resolution to the standoff with Iran.  On June 28 dozens of members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs sent a letter, sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to President Obama expressing their support for additional sanctions and urging the President to “increase the pressure on Iran in the days ahead.” The 46 members that signed the letter stated that “Iran’s election unfortunately has done nothing to suggest a reversal of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capacity,” and that “Iran’s nuclear program and foreign policy rest mainly in the hands of Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei.”

However, others in Congress have warned against a new round of sanctions. Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jim McDermott (D-WA) wrote in Politico on Monday, “It would be a mistake to impose new sanctions on Iran before giving Rouhani the chance to put his words into action.” They argue that further sanctions would “jeopardize a crucial opening” for Iranian moderates and be perceived negatively by Iranians who voted for change. The Congressmen wrote that doing so would send a message to Iran that “no matter what you do, the United States will respond only with more crippling pressure,” which would provide no incentive for Iran to seek a negotiated solution.

For his part, President Obama expressed “cautious optimism” in light of Iran’s election. Denis McDonough, Obama’s Chief of Staff, stated on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” that the election of Hassan Rouhani is potentially a “hopeful sign.” Further, McDonough said that “the question for us now is, if he (Rouhani) is interested in, as he has said in his campaign events, mending Iran’s relations with the rest of the world, there’s an opportunity to do that.”

Iran, meanwhile, condemned the new sanctions and instead called for the removal of sanctions as a “confidence building measure.”  Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Araqchi stated that the new sanctions put in place last week were the “wrong step at the wrong time” and that they would only further complicate measures to resolve the standoff.

U.S. policymakers and experts, while not calling for sanctions to be removed, have urged that no further sanctions be ratcheted up ahead of Rouhani’s inauguration and that existing sanctions be exchanged in negotiations for Iranian nuclear concessions.

Former Obama Defense Department official Colin Kahl and senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation Alireza Nader argued, “Rouhani needs some time to get his bearings, form his government, and convince regime hard-liners to give him a chance.” They add that, “Piling on additional sanctions now, in apparent disregard of the election results, could undermine this process.” Only two weeks after the election and nearly a month away from taking office, Rouhani has not yet had time to alter the course Iran has taken under Ahmadinejad.

The reaction of the western world will be critical to how far Rouhani can go to alter that course. “The Iranians missed a major opportunity in 2009 when they assumed that President Obama would be no different from previous US leaders and then acted according to that assumption.  Tehran’s non-responsiveness rendered Obama’s job to change the relationship more difficult”, stated Trita Parsi, the President of the National Iranian American Council. “Washington should be careful not to commit that mistake” says Parsi.

The Obama administration, despite allowing new Executive sanctions to proceed as planned, has shown some signs of wariness toward the imposition of further sanctions at this time. Secretary of State John Kerry argued before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April that increasing economic penalties on Iran just a few months before the elections could close the window to “work the diplomatic channel.” With the election now concluded, and a major potential opportunity for new negotiations, it remains to be seen whether the administration will delay consideration of new sanctions or continue to ratchet up economic pressure on Iran indefinitely.

Posted By Layla Oghabian

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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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