• 4 August 2016
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Iran deal, Nuclear deal, Persian Gulf

Washington, D.C.-The Strait of Hormuz, located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, is one of the most sensitive regions in the world due to its geopolitical relevance. A variety of factors including the narrowness of the Strait of Hurmuz, the large amount of seaborne oil passing through the strait, and the constant presence of U.S. and Iranian forces have rendered the region uniquely prone to fatal encounters. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen warned as far back as 2011 “We are not talking to Iran, so we don’t understand each other. If something happens, it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right, that there will be miscalculation.” We weren’t talking to Iran when Mullen issued his warning, but we are now. Yet, the absence of formal diplomatic channels between the two nations remains the most dangerous element in the equation to this day. Surprisingly, it may also be the simplest to resolve if the countries capitalize on recent diplomacy to pursue an Incidents at Sea Agreement.

Perhaps the most significant additional benefit of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the United States is the reestablished channel of communication between the two nations. The benefit of this channel was clear when Kerry and Zarif intervened to ensure the quick release of U.S. Navy sailors that were captured after crossing into Iranian waters in January.

Kerry and Zarif were able to return the sailors to a U.S. Navy base within 15 hours of being detained. This stands in contrast to a similar incident involving British sailors from 2007, in which the sailors were brought to the mainland and detained for 13 tense days, thus demonstrating the benefits of stronger ties. Commenting on the benefits of the channel, Kerry has noted that “[only] two years ago we wouldn’t have known who to call, enough time would have gone by, we would have called the Swiss, and [then] there would have been sufficient enmity for another situation”.

That January incident highlighted the danger of accidental naval war in the Persian Gulf between the U.S. and Iran, as it easily could have resulted in fire between the two country’s naval forces or led to broader hostility if cooler heads had not prevailed. Rather than rely exclusively on a channel that could end in January, the U.S. and Iran would be wise to take steps to ensure that a similar incident spirals out of control.

Iran and the U.S. have a long history of small-scale naval engagements that continue to this day. A recent example is the mishap in January involving Iranian live-fire naval exercises in the Strait of Hurmuz. The USS Truman, an aircraft carrier, was transiting the strait into the Persian Gulf to assist in the air campaign against ISIS when unguided missiles launched by the IRGC Navy (IRGCN) missed the carrier by a mere 1,500 yards.

An “Incidents at Sea agreement” is the logical solution to reduce these dangers. The agreement would establish direct lines of communication between the two navies, provide updates on scheduled military exercises, and allow both parties to quickly alert each other of their presence in unexpected circumstances.

The concept of an Incidents at Sea agreement is neither unprecedented nor antiquated. In 1972 the U.S. and USSR signed such an agreement to avoid unnecessary collisions and miscalculations. The agreement was a success for both sides and reduced the frequency of naval encounters between the two nations. If two nations as diametrically opposed as the U.S. and USSR were able to identify and agree to a win-win situation, the same logic ought to apply to U.S. relations with Iran.

Similar accords have been established today in other parts of the world as well. In 2014 China became party to an Incidents at Sea agreement with the United States and the ASEAN countries, the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). The agreement was arrived at to reduce the probability of dangerous naval encounters near the strategically sensitive and contested islands of the South China Sea.

There has been widespread support for such an agreement between Iran and the U.S. In 2010, an Incidents at Sea agreement was proposed and supported by various military leaders. Former Admiral Joe Sestak has also advocated for an agreement, stating that he suggested an agreement with Iran in the early ‘90s, as well as later in life as an Admiral in the Persian Gulf. Additionally, Iranian academic Kaveh Afrasiabi has recently noted that in 2008 he and current U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter – who was at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government at the time – wrote policy proposals in tandem to the Pentagon and Tehran in favor of an Incidents at Sea agreement between the two countries.

While an Incidents at Sea agreement will not eliminate the possibility for tragic miscalculations, it is evident that increased communication and transparency can only help improve the region’s security situation and thus reduce the possibility that the U.S. backslides into yet another costly war.

Posted By NIAC

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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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