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  • 8 August 2013
  • Posted By Caroline Cohn
  • 2 Comments
  • discrimination, Sanctions

Want to book a flight to Iran on Kayak? Sorry. But North Korea’s nice this time of year.

When Iranian Americans started reaching out to us a few weeks ago asking why websites like Kayak and Priceline were no longer allowing users to book flights to Iran, NIAC contacted the top executives of seven online travel agencies currently engaging in the practice to attempt to fix the problem. We told these companies – Orbitz, Priceline, Expedia, Tripadvisor, Cheaptickets, Hotwire, and Kayak – that, while sanctions are broad and confusing, they do not prohibit travel or the booking of travel to Iran. Since then, we’ve been contacted by Orbitz’s VP for Corporate Affairs who told us that the reason they block these sales is indeed sanctions. Or rather, the over-enforcement of sanctions that are so broad and ambiguous, private companies have been scared out of doing any business related to Iran even if it means booking flights for Iranian Americans to visit family.

Travel hurdles and restrictions aren’t a foreign concept in the U.S. You can’t simply book a flight to Cuba, either. In fact, all travel to Cuba by Americans traveling as individuals is expressly prohibited. Though, as of 2012, you can go to Cuba in a group – so long as you travel with an organization that has an official license from the U.S. State Department. In any case, given the stringent travel restrictions on Cuba, it makes sense that if you search for a flight to Havana on Tripadvisor, your attempt fails and the same error message – “we cannot complete your request…” – appears.

In the case of Iran, however, U.S. federal regulations explicitly do not restrict travel, and they certainly do not prohibit online travel agencies from facilitating Iran-related travel. And yet, as is the case with most other goods and services that are technically exempted from the sanctions, it appears that many companies are simply unaware of or unwilling to take advantage.

But what about North Korea, the country threatening war with the U.S. and our allies, and with a much more extensive nuclear war capability than Iran? Interestingly, we noticed yesterday that you actually can book flight tickets to Pyongyang, North Korea, through one of the websites, Kayak.com. Type in “Pyongyang” as your destination on Kayak, and you can find flights with no problem; although, some of the other online travel sites won’t process your request.

So why can’t you book flights to Iran? De jure technicalities aside, the de facto consequences of broad sanctions on Iran is clear. The Iran sanctions are the harshest sanctions regime ever imposed on a country during peacetime, according to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Many businesses, like many of these online travel agencies, have been convinced that zero association with Iran is a better business decision than the potential costs associated with any sort of business association. This has actually been the unofficial U.S. policy with regard to Iran sanctions for some time, to convince private actors that any business involving Iran, even if it’s perfectly legal, is simply not worth the risk. And this has also been the mission of organizations like United Against Nuclear Iran who name and shame any company doing any business with Iran, even if its legitimate.

Rouhani Raises Hopes for Diplomacy at First News Conference as President

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.

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 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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