By Samira Damavandi and Caroline Cohn

At his first press conference as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani indicated his willingness to reengage in diplomatic talks with the West, raising hopes for finding a solution to the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani replaced outgoing President Ahmadinejad, whose bellicose anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric only exacerbated the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The election of Rouhani, a centrist candidate who pledged “constructive interaction” with the world, was a rare positive sign for a potential easing of tensions between the two estranged nations.

Of Rouhani’s news conference on Tuesday, the Washington Post noted that  “It was certainly a remarkable tonal departure from Ahmadinejad, with lots of talk about compromising with the West.” As Rouhani fielded questions from the media – which included reporters from both inside and outside of Iran, including the U.S. – he made several positive remarks indicating his plans for steering Iranian foreign and domestic policy in a more conciliatory direction.

Diplomacy

In response to several questions about his plans for renewing nuclear negotiations, many posed by Western news correspondents, Rouhani reaffirmed his plans to pursue a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy, starkly opposite from the approach of his predecessor.  “As I have said earlier, our main policy will be to have constructive interaction with the world,” said Rouhani.

He expressed an eagerness to reengage in direct talks with the P5+1, which is made up of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, who are spearheading the sanctions efforts against Iran. “By God’s grace, we will have more active negotiations with the P5+1,” Rouhani said, noting his belief that “the nuclear issue can only be resolved through negotiations” and building up “mutual trust,” rather than through increased sanctions or threats on either side.

However, Rouhani was also clear that Iran’s willingness to reengage would be dependent on reciprocal gestures from the West, the U.S. in particular. “Any talks with the United States have to take place based on mutual respect, mutual interests, and mutual stances. It definitely depends on certain conditions,” Rouhani noted, conditions which he said include the U.S. pledging non-interference with Iran’s internal issues, official recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear enrichment, and that the U.S. “avoid unilateral or bullying policies against Iran.” Rouhani concluded his answer by noting that “of course, under such circumstances, the grounds [for holding talks] would be ready.”

As for the content of an agreement between Iran and the West, Rouhani was firm that complete suspension of enrichment is not something he could agree to. But he also noted that there are other ways of “building trust” even while enrichment in Iran continues, such as increased oversight mechanisms to put in place verifiable limitations on Iran’s enrichment program. Such a deal would be similar to the one Rouhani made with former French president Chirac in 2005, in Rouhani’s former role as Iran’s nuclear negotiator. Rouhani highlighted this deal during the press conference as one that could serve as a useful model for future settlements, noting that the 2005 deal between France and Iran, which was also supported by Germany, only fell through due to resistance from Great Britain and the U.S.

Sanctions

Less optimistic, from a diplomatic standpoint, Rouhani also drew attention to what he referred to as recent “contradictory behavior and messages” emanating from the U.S., which may undermine diplomatic prospects.

Referencing the U.S. sanctions bill passed in the House last week — which, if enacted into law, will impose the harshest sanctions on Iran yet, essentially bringing Iranian oil exports down to zero — Rouhani noted his concern over the inconsistency between the positive tone of the Obama administration’s official statements upon his inauguration, and the message emanating from Congress with their march forward with draconian sanctions legislation against Iran.

While Rouhani asserted that Iran “will respond accordingly and similarly to any constructive and meaningful move,” he also made known his concerns about other forces in U.S. politics he views as working against prospects of achieving a negotiated settlement. “Unfortunately in the U.S. there is the pressure group, the war-mongering group, that stands opposed to constructive talks and pursues the interest of a foreign country, and receives most of the orders from the same country.

Human Rights

During Rouhani’s campaign, he condemned the securitized environment in Iran and pledged to work on freeing members of the Green Movement and other political prisoners detained after Iran’s 2009 elections. Rouhani has therefore been viewed by many in Iran as a source of hope for improving its human rights policies, and it was a topic that received considerable attention during his news conference.

One Iranian newspaper reporter prefaced his question “Mr. Rouhani, you returned hope to Iran.”  He continued by telling Rouhani, “The expectation of journalists is that you return their only hope back to them,” as he asked Rouhani whether he had any plans to reopen the currently closed Iranian Press Union.

“I believe all unions, not only Press Unions, should be active within the framework of law,” answered Rouhani. “I will try my best to make this happen.”

Asked about his plans to “remove the restrictions imposed on certain political figures, who were revolutionary leaders,” Rouhani indicated a more cautious approach to the issue. “We have to give them time [to be resolved]. Many affairs cannot be handled by one president and the executive power alone.… But I’m totally optimistic that the atmosphere will change.”

Students’ and Women’s Issues

One of Rouhani’s campaign promises was to create a women’s ministry, something Iran has not had since its revolution in 1979. Many Iranian women and  female activists were discouraged when Rouhani released his cabinet picks, which did not include a single woman. (Former President Ahmadinejad’s cabinet had included one — Minister of Health Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi).

Rouhani addressed this issue during the news conference. “A promise that I made, was that my government would work to create equal opportunities for women,” he stated. “I will remain truthful to this promise and I have not changed my position on this matter.”

In regards to the lack of women chosen for positions in his own cabinet, he stated that women will have a role in his cabinet in advisory positions, and their expertise will be used. He went on to say that “even if there is one woman as a minister in the cabinet, women should not be pleased and content with just this,” and he discussed the importance of advancing opportunities for women at several administrative levels, noting, “we shouldn’t think that if one woman is chosen to be a minister in the cabinet that women have reached their goals in women rights and equality.”

A student reporter from Iran’s Students News Association pressed Rouhani on several issues related to students’ rights, which have been controversial in Iran particularly since university student activists have historically been largely repressed. Rouhani was asked how far he and his administration would go to meet university students’ demands, specifically in relation to some recent action taken in support of future segregation of male and female university students as well as the cancellation of some majors, which has specifically affected women.

President Rouhani expressed his support for a more open atmosphere at universities. “There should be a sense of security, freedom for expression of opinions, and a more enthusiastic and lively atmosphere”, changes many Iranians have already started to notice taking place.

Rouhani certainly raised hopes during his news conference that, as Iran’s new president, he intends to deliver on the many promises he made during his campaign. During his conference, Rouhani reaffirmed his commitment to improving the Iranian government’s relationships with people at home and the international community. However, just as Rouhani noted during his conference that the U.S.’s actions speak louder than its words, this is a sentiment likely shared by many observers toward Rouhani as well. Both in the U.S. and in Iran, many wait with “cautious optimism” (in the words of Obama)  to see whether Rouhani’s actions will indeed match his rhetoric.

Posted By Caroline Cohn

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Sign the Petition

 

7,348 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.

Sincerely,

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