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  • 30 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Uncategorized

A License to Chat

Cross posted from the Huffington Post

The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) should clarify its position regarding the legality of Microsoft’s offering its instant messenger service within Iran. As a result of ambiguities within OFAC’s guidelines on Iran sanctions, Microsoft Corporation voluntarily withdrew its Windows Live Messenger program from Iran in late 2008. Preventing such a potentially valuable resource from being downloaded does not inhibit the Iranian government from accomplishing any of its goals, but it does impede the ability of ordinary Iranians to communicate. One solution is simple and effective: OFAC’s director should issue a general license to Microsoft to allow Windows Live Messenger to be made immediately available to the Iranian people.

  • 30 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran, Iranian Youth

Khamenei Criticized at Public Meeting

Mowjcamp is reporting that a student from Sharif University of Technology was apparently arrested in Iran after criticizing Ayatollah Khamenei at a public event. At least some of the comments were made while television cameras were broadcasting the event live.

The event, a meeting between the Supreme Leader and various academics, took place on Wednesday. According to the article posted on Mowjcamp,

The student directly addressed the leader criticising him and the Islamic Republic for twenty minutes. His comments were followed by occasional applause and cheers from those present. Iranian state-run TV which was broadcasting live images of the meeting was forced to stop airing the programme for some time.

Based on the information included in the article, it appears that the general thrust of the student’s twenty-minute address was that freedom of speech is under attack in Iran. Although, he also articulated dissatisfaction,

[with] what he described as a campaign to idolise the leader while questioning the “cycle of power” in the Islamic Republic and the structure of the Guardians Council and the Council of the Elite.

The report states that government security forces met the student as he was leaving the event.

  • 28 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Divided House Committee Passes Iran Sanctions

A divided House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) today by voice vote. The lead sponsor of the bill and Chairman of the committee, Howard Berman (D-CA), said his overriding concern is preventing Iran from “acquiring the capacity to acquire nuclear arms.”

IRPSA would expand unilateral, extraterritorial sanctions and target companies exporting refined petroleum to Iran or helping to develop Iran’s oil refining industry. Before the hearing, Rep. Berman amended the legislation to make lifting the sanctions in it conditional on Iran ceasing all uranium enrichment.

The bill received vocal support from much of the committee, including the ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). “Unless we impose the maximum pressure on Iran, and this bill is a major step forward in that direction, the regime will continue its march towards acquiring nuclear weapons,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen.

However, a bipartisan group of representatives voiced their opposition to the legislation.

It was pointed out by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) that many human rights defenders inside Iran, such as Shirin Ebadi, are against additional economic sanctions. Quoting Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, he said that “sanctions would not actually act against the government; rather they would only hurt the people.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) echoed those concerns, and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said he did not support IRPSA because unilateral sanctions are ineffective and punish American allies.

Committee members who supported IRPSA frequently stated their belief that the bill would be an effective deterrent for Iran’s government. “Since Iran imports forty percent of its refined petroleum, this legislation will have a significant impact on Iran’s economy, and will send a clear message that Iran must stop its nuclear enrichment program,” said Rep. Mike McMahon (D-NY).

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) said he would vote for the measure, but made clear he felt it was less than ideal. Meeks argued that sanctions should be targeted at Iran’s leaders, not the general population. According to Rep. Meeks, “We need to find sanctions that are going to affect those few who, in effect, have hijacked the entire country.” Meeks also emphasized that President Obama’s diplomatic efforts should be given time to succeed.

The Senate Banking Committee will consider a more expansive Iran sanctions bill tomorrow.

  • 28 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

Khamenei says questioning the election is “the biggest crime”

Ayatollah Khamenei stated on Wednesday that questioning the results of the June election is a crime. According to an Associated Press article, Khamenei said “The day after the election, some people, without logic or reason, called the glorious election a lie,” and disputing the election results is “the biggest crime.”

The Supreme Leader’s statement contains an implicit threat to opposition leaders Mahdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, who continue to question the veracity of the election results. Khamenei also said that he “sent private messages to those who continue to question the election telling them they may not be able to control the future direction of events.”

Thus far, the government has refrained from arresting Karroubi and Mousavi; although, Karroubi is the subject of an investigation over his allegations that government forces raped and tortured protestors after the election. During rallies, protesters have reportedly shouted “If Karroubi is arrested, there will be insurrections across Iran.”

While Khamenei did not order the arrest of the two leaders, his statements may indicate that he is running out of patience with the opposition.

  • 28 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file

Rep. Franks Brings Military Option to the Table

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) has introduced legislation emphasizing the threat of military strikes against Iran and expanding unilateral, extraterritorial sanctions against Iran. The bill declares “the United States is wholly capable, willing, and ready to use military force to prevent Iran from obtaining or developing a nuclear weapons capability.”

Franks’ bill, the “Peace Through Strength Act of 2009” (PTSA), also requires the Secretary of Defense to provide a report to Congress on the status of Iran’s weapons and nuclear programs, an outline of “military options toward the Government of Iran to counter a nuclear ballistic missile threat,” and the readiness level of US forces to carry those military options.

The legislation mandates that the United States not “compromise elements of national missile defense systems, or offensive strategic weapons” in order to facilitate greater diplomatic pressure on Iran by Russia, though these provisions are not enforceable. It also requires the U.S. government to “employ all instruments of national power” in its efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. To that end, the PTSA incorporates language from the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act of 2009 (IRPSA).

Thus far, the legislation has not collected any co-sponsors, and is likely to be outshone by other measures such as IRPSA which are being given greater attention from lawmakers.  IRPSA is set to be considered by the Foreign Affairs Committee today.

  • 27 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

A Policy of Imprisonment

The detention of Iranian Americans by the government in Tehran serves the purpose of those hardliners who want to avoid diplomatic engagement with the United States. This is the argument Karim Sadjadpour takes in his recent Foreign Policy article. Sadjadpour argues that the imprisonment of his friend Kian Tajbakhsh is not about Tajbakhsh’s supposed role in the post-election protests; as the Iranian government views it, “da’va sar-e een neest…that’s not what this fight is about.”

Tajbakhsh was not the opposition mastermind that the government alleges. As the protests against the June election were reaching their height, Tajbakhsh maintained a low profile. He even continued to “meet with his minder” from the Ministry of Intelligence, like he had been doing since his four month imprisonment in 2007. Sadjadpour contends that the Iranian government is using Tajbakhsh as a means to an end. The leadership wants to strengthen its negotiating position in relation to the United States.

Sadjadpour points out that,    

While neighboring Dubai and Turkey have managed to build thriving economies by trading in goods and services, Iran, even 30 years after the revolution, remains in the business of trading in human beings.

In an attempt to answer the question why this is still the case and what is to be done, Sadjadpour looks to both the left and the right. Continuing to engage with Iran can only boost the ability of the United States to help people imprisoned by the Iranian government. At the same time, hardliners in Iran work to sabotage engagement with the United States as a way to distract people from the country’s real problems. Imprisoning Iranian Americans, like Tajbakhsh, is one of the methods hardliners use to wag the dog.

Perhaps it is time that the Iranian government begins to worry more about the economic well being of its citizens, and less about its relative standing in the world. Indeed, in all likelihood Iran’s standing in the world would increase if the government stopped oppressing its own people and looked to their needs.

Even Niccolo Machiavelli, the ultimate advisor on power politics, recognized that rulers should avoid being hated: “the prince must consider…how to avoid those things which will make him hated or contemptible; and as often as he shall have succeeded he will have fulfilled his part, and he need not fear any danger in other reproaches…And one of the most efficacious remedies that a prince can have against conspiracies is not to be hated and despised by the people.” A government that resorts to fear and repression as methods of retaining control also begins the process of undermining its own authority in the eyes of the people.

It is time that Iran’s leaders begin to act like a government that has an interest in the welfare of the Iranian people, and begin to act less like men with guns. In a fitting conclusion, Sadjadpour allows Tajbakhsh to have the last word on the state of the Iranian government,

Iranians might ponder Barack Obama’s challenge to Iran to articulate ‘not what it is against, but what future it wants to build.’ Each Iranian will wonder how much thought our rulers or our fellow countrymen have given to this critical question and why answers to it are so vague and so few.

  • 26 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran, Uncategorized

Iranian Troops Arrested Inside Pakistan

Eleven Iranian troops have been arrested inside of Pakistan, on what appears to have been a mission related to the recent Jundallah bombing. According to various news sources, at least three of the troops were Revolutionary Guard officers.

The Iranian soldiers were traveling in two vehicles, which were also seized by Pakistani forces. They were arrested by Pakistani forces “after they shot out the tires of a car driven” by smugglers. Speaking about the episode, a Pakistani official said,

It’s a serious matter…We are investigating why they crossed into our territory.

Iran has stated that the eleven soldiers were actually border guards who unintentionally crossed into Pakistani territory. The Revolutionary Guards Corps has also denied that any of its members were involved in the incident.

What will happen to the eleven detained troops, as well as the nature of Pakistan’s response, is still unclear. If it is true that the troops were on a secret mission against perceived Jundallah elements, it would seem to have been a poorly thought-out decision by the Iranian government considering the recent escalation of tensions between the two countries.

  • 26 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file

The Path to Transparency Runs Through Engagement

“Assembling nuclear weapons is not as easy as building furniture from IKEA,” said Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association (ACA) at a press briefing held October 22. The briefing, on the future of Iran-U.S. negotiations, consisted of a panel of three experts, who drew a direct line from U.S. engagement with Iran to greater information and transparency regarding Iran’s nuclear program. In the panelists’ view, the most important thing the West stands to gain in the short term from engagement with Iran is new and valuable information about Iran’s activities. 

Ambassador James Dobbins of the RAND Corporation said that “engagement is a virtue in its own right,” since it is only through engagement that the United States is able to collect information about the state of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. As more information is gathered, it will allow the Intelligence Community to make more accurate assessments regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions. Thielmann, a Senior Fellow at the ACA, said that achieving transparency on sites like Natanz and Qom should be the primary focus of the P5+1 countries.

Paul Pillar, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, said that greater information was necessary for understanding Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He noted that understanding the country’s nuclear intentions was a “matter of degrees… [and] not an either or” call. As a result, increased access to nuclear sites like Natanz and Qom will allow intelligence analysts to make more accurate assessments about the state and progress of Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile activities, as well as whether or not Iran is on a trajectory toward an illicit program.

As Thielmann indicated, the United States has time to engage in an extended dialogue with Iran. Taking issue with recent media conclusions, they stated that Iran is not months away from building a nuclear weapon but years. The negotiations that have already taken place in Geneva and Vienna should, therefore, be viewed as only the beginning in a long process of engagement. Pillar said that the United States is “nowhere near the end” of negotiations with Iran, and that the “gloom and doom” so prevalent in Washington about Iran is misplaced.

  • 23 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Human Rights in Iran

House Denounces Treatment of Baha’is in Iran

The House of Representatives passed a resolution yesterday condemning the persecution of Baha’is by the government of Iran. House Resolution 175 was sponsored by Rep. Mark S. Kirk (R-IL), and passed with a vote of 407-2. The resolution condemns the Iranian government for violating the rights of members of the Baha’i minority, and also calls on Iran to release seven leaders of the Baha’i community who were arrested during the Spring of 2008.

In statement made after the resolution passed, Rep. Kirk said “Today, the House of Representatives sends a signal to the Iranian regime…To the dictators in Iran we say, release your political prisoners, especially release your Baha’i prisoners, and end your ignorant and uncultured persecution of the peaceful Baha’is.”

The seven Baha’i coordinators, Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mahvash Sabet, Vahid Tizfahm, Raha Sabet, Sasan Taqva, and Haleh Roohi, were arrested by the Iranian government and accused of being linked to foreign elements. However, the Baha’i International Community has maintained that they were detained as a result of their religious affiliation.

Members of the Baha’i faith represent Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious group. Iranian Baha’is have suffered from government persecution since the 1979 Revolution.

  • 23 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Nuclear file

Early Warnings Over Enrichment Deal (Updated…)

Reuters is reporting that Iran has turned down the enrichment deal proposed by IAEA chief Mohammad Elbaradei. The deal was proposed this week in Vienna and has been approved already by all of the other countries (U.S., France and Russia) that took part in the negotiations.

The report relies on an unnamed member of Iran’s diplomatic team, who told State TV that:

Now we are awaiting a positive and constructive response on Iran’s proposal from the other party on providing nuclear fuel for Tehran’s reactor…The other party is expected to avoid past mistakes in violating agreements … and to gain Iran’s trust.

Iran’s alternate plan, of which very few details have emerged, apparently proposes that Iran buy nuclear fuel for its Tehran research plant. The accuracy of these early reports is unclear, but the BBC reports that France’s Foreign Minister has said indications coming from Iran “are not very positive.”

Update: We’re hearing more and more that the reports about Iran “turning down” the proposed deal are unofficial, and as such should be treated with a very healthy dose of skepticism.  Iran’s official response is still pending, though it appears Tehran might try to prolong the deadline for a yes or no answer to next week.

The Obama administration acknowledged that they are only interested in Iran’s official response last night in the State Department’s daily press briefing with spokesman Ian Kelly:

I’m sure there are a lot of voices in Tehran right now, but we’re going to wait for that authoritative answer tomorrow.

Update II: Even more from the administration about the State TV reports of a rejection, from Reuters:

WASHINGTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) – The United States is still awaiting Iran’s formal response to a U.N.-drafted plan for it to cut a stockpile of nuclear fuel that the West fears could be used for weapons, a U.S. official said on Friday.

The official, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said Washington did not regard an Iranian state television report suggesting that Tehran would not endorse the deal as Tehran’s official response to the plan, seen as one way to buy time for broader talks on Iran’s nuclear program.

Update III: The BBC has reported that Iran has asked for more time to consider the IAEA deal proposed in Vienna:

Iran will respond to a proposed deal on its controversial nuclear programme by the middle of next week, the UN atomic agency (IAEA) has said.

IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei said he hoped the answer would be “positive”.

The UN agency had suggested exporting most of Iran’s enriched uranium to Russia and France for further refining…Iran informed the Director General today that it is considering the proposal in depth and in a favourable light, but needs time until the middle of next week to provide a response,” the IAEA said in a statement.

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.



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