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  • 22 July 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 7 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file

The Uranium Core of Obama’s Iran Strategy

This post originally appeared at Talking Warheads:

In dismissing the Tehran Declaration in May, US officials said the fuel swap proposal doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. The core issue, according to four UN Security Council resolutions and two successive US administrations, is Iran’s enrichment program.

That’s why Uranium Intelligence Weekly thought it noteworthy to point out some recent changes in the US National Security Strategy that seem to indicate the Obama Administration might drop its zero enrichment redline on Iran.

Despite UN Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to suspend enrichment, it’s probable that at some point the P5+1 negotiators (US, Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) will have to consider the unthinkable — allowing Iranian enrichment activities to continue. Intriguingly, a shift in the most recent May 2010 NSS, while open to a variety of interpretations, is seen by some as tacitly recognizing that fact, suggesting scope for an eventual shift on the issue — assuming Iran meets international demands to come clean about its nuclear program and adheres to the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol.

Jeffrey Lewis is intrigued, though mistakenly called the US demand a precondition for talks.  It’s not.  Dropping that precondition and going ahead with direct talks (albeit few and far between) was Obama’s first policy major shift.  The next step will be to make some move toward accepting Iran’s right to civilian applications of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Most Iran experts see this as a no-brainer.  But arms control people are less willing to blow open the loophole in the NPT that allows countries like Iran to produce fissile material under cover of a civilian program.  So it’s a squabble that keeps the progressive community divided, clearing the way for the hawks and ideologues to sell their simple and concise narrative of “bombs away.”

It’s important that those groups not looking to go to war develop a clear idea of what needs to happen next.  Fortunately, there have been some good discussions in recent weeks among NGOs about exactly that sort of thing.  There’s a consensus emerging that could serve as something of a road map for American negotiators.

Solving the Nuclear Issue in 3 Easy Steps

Now that newly-imposed sanctions have taken some of the pressure off, the Administration needs a renewed commitment to diplomacy.  That means face time with Iranian negotiators — no more negotiating through the press.  It also requires effective partners, building on the progress that Turkey and Brazil gained in May to break down or at least circumvent some of the mistrust that poses such an obstacle.  A plan is already underway for yet another revival of the zombie fuel swap in August, using Turkey as an effective mediator.  Assuming a deal is finally reached to send some uranium out of Iran, both sides can finally declare victory on a confidence-building measure that wraps up outstanding concerns regarding 20% enrichment and the size of Iran’s stockpile of LEU.

Then comes the hard part: the enrichment program itself.

The US has to compromise on its demand of zero centrifuges in Iran.  But it likely won’t lay down its trump card at the beginning of negotiations.  So the goal will be to get Iran to agree to a suspension in line with UNSC resolutions and similar to the suspension it began in November of 2004.  [A suspension; not a halt — demonstrating that a suspension is by definition temporary will be key.]  That will be the objective: trading an acceptance of Iran’s right to maintain an enrichment program for a temporary suspension and reasonable limitations once the program is restarted.

Getting Iran to agree to a suspension, I believe, will be the biggest challenge of all.  They’ve gone down that road before, agreeing to a full suspension in 2004 only to resume it two years later.  The task for the P5+1 will be to convince the Iranians that it will be different this time.  The US will be at the table — a key difference from before — but will still depend on credible partners like Turkey to convey its good intentions. In short, we’re going to have to trust one another.

After that, all that’s left is gaining Iran’s accession to the Additional Protocol and/or other mechanisms for verifying the absence of a weapons program.  Iran’s ratification of the CTBT would be a nice bonus, as it’s a prerequisite for the treaty’s entering into force, and such a gesture would be a sign of Iran’s commitment not to develop bombs.  In exchange for all of this, the international community would have to welcome Iran back into the fold, removing sanctions and reintegrating Tehran into the economic, political and security establishment of the region.

So that’s it.  Not too hard, right?

  • 18 July 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 5 Comments
  • Sanctions

Smart Sanctions

New sanctions have caused ETS, the Educational Testing Service, to block Iranian students from taking standardized tests required for Western educations, such as the TOEFL and the GRE.

From ETS’s website:

Registration temporarily suspended in Iran

The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution affecting banks and financial institutions that conduct business in Iran. As a result of this resolution, ETS is currently unable to process payments from Iran and has had to temporarily suspend registration until alternative arrangements can be made. Please check back after July 22 for an update.

This means it will now be even harder for Iranian students to study in the US, since these tests are a prerequisite for most admissions applications.  Iranian students already face an inordinately strict visa process in which they are only eligible for single-entry visas.  This policy is unique to Iran in the Middle East, by the way; Saudi students, Syrian students, Lebanese students — they are all eligible for multiple-entry visas, yet Iran is not.

But what is most troubling about this newest impact of sanctions is that it runs directly counter to the stated interests of US foreign policy on Iran.

In Obama’s Nowruz address last March, he said:

[E]ven as we continue to have differences with the Iranian government, we will sustain our commitment to a more hopeful future for the Iranian people. For instance, by increasing opportunities for educational exchanges so that Iranian students can come to our colleges and universities

This commitment was echoed every time the Administration stressed the targeted nature of these new sanctions; that they will impose penalties on Iran’s government — not its people.  And yet, the reality continues to prove otherwise.

There is even reason to believe this unforeseen consequence of sanctions runs counter to our covert operations involving Iran.  The so-called “brain drain” program which seeks to lure Iranian nuclear scientists to defect surely involves some type of academic cover.  That was clearly the case with Shahram Amiri’s bizarre ordeal, since his CIA handlers set him up with a university posting in Arizona.  The point of any type of “brain drain” program is to lure the current generation — and perhaps more importantly the next generation — of intellectual leaders in fields like nuclear science out of the country.  The single most effective tool in reaching that goal is simply getting them to study in US universities while they’re young.  We have the best colleges in the world, and oftentimes that experience is transformative.

Sadly, the unintended consequences of sanctions continue to have the exact opposite effect of President Obama’s goal of distinguishing between the Iranian government and its people.  And three decades of evidence suggests that the Iranian government gains enormously every time we make that same mistake.

  • 14 July 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 4 Comments
  • Nuclear file

When is a Nuclear Program Not a Nuclear Program? (UPDATE)

It should come as no surprise that, when dealing with a topic like nuclear weapons and Iran, there’s just a lot of wrong information out there. For example: take this Council on Foreign Relations overview of the Feb 18, 2010 IAEA report on Iran’s safeguards. These IAEA reports are pretty routine, and CFR is a renowned organization — and yet, from the CFR Essential Documents series:

The February 18, 2010 update of this IAEA document on Iranian nuclear activities reports that Iran has completed uranium enrichment to 20 percent, and that the country continued nuclear weapons involvement beyond 2004, in contrast to U.S. intelligence assessments that Iran had halted weapons activity in 2003 and had not begun anew.

The report simply doesn’t say that. From Section 43:

The Agency would also like to discuss with Iran: the project and management structure of alleged activities related to nuclear explosives; nuclear related safety arrangements for a number of the alleged projects; details relating to the manufacture of components for high explosives initiation systems; and experiments concerning the generation and detection of neutrons. Addressing these issues is important for clarifying the Agency’s concerns about these activities and those described above, which seem to have continued beyond 2004.

The Agency does not say Iran sought to build a weapon beyond 2004. It says that Iran’s lack of cooperation with inspectors makes them unable to verify that the ongoing activities are purely civilian in nature. Without greater cooperation, the Agency says, it is unable to declare the absence of a weapons program. (To say nothing of how hard it is to prove a negative).

One of the most fundamental yet often misunderstood facts about Iran’s nuclear program is this: developing nuclear technology is not the same as developing nuclear weapons. True, progress on a civilian nuclear program — up to a certain point — also brings you closer to a weapon. But CFR here makes the same mistake that policymakers continue to make day in and day out: the fact that Iran’s nuclear activities have continued does not negate the conclusions of the 2007 NIE.

The NIE judged with high confidence that in the Fall of 2003, Iran halted its active pursuit of nuclear weapons. Since that time, Iran’s nuclear program has continued, without an explicit decision to build a bomb. Does that mean that, since 2004, Iran has moved closer to a nuclear weapons capability? Yes. [I would argue, in fact, that Iran has had a nuclear weapons “capability” for some time, having mastered the process of enrichment, having the necessary materials available in large enough quantities, and having bomb designs readily available on the Internet. After that, all it takes is time and the decision to actually build the thing.]

To hear some policymakers talk about it, the 2007 NIE has been thoroughly discredited, yet that just proves how politics can so warp the conventional wisdom on an issue like this. In this case, politics prevailed in reinterpreting the written text of the NIE, which clearly defined “nuclear weapons program” as “Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

So there you have it. The NIE said Iran chose to stop pursuing a bomb in 2003, though not to stop its program entirely. The February IAEA report said Iran has not answered the Agency’s questions about certain activities, but it clearly stopped short of CFR’s overhyped conclusion.

Update: A reader writes to say that the IAEA report does in fact indicate an ongoing weapons program after 2004, pointing to the list of alleged activities that “seem to have continued beyond 2004.”  Apparently — as was my point in writing this post — two people can read the same document and draw widely divergent conclusions.

When the IAEA refers to “alleged activities,” it is talking about activities for which it has received some amount of evidence, but about which Iran has not provided enough information for the Agency to form a definitive conclusion.  Thus the use of the word “alleged.” And that, as I said originally, is the core problem with Iran’s nuclear program: there’s just not enough information.  Iran is not cooperating with the IAEA sufficiently to address all outstanding concerns, which breeds a never-ending amount of suspicion about their activities.

Does that mean the IAEA has some evidence to indicate weaponization work continued after 2004?  Yes.  But that evidence is not of sufficient quality, legitimacy or reliability to make an explicit declaration akin to the one CFR made.  (see here for further discussion of the “alleged studies,” and the man behind the intel, Olli Heinonen).  In fact, the US intelligence community  probably also has evidence of weaponization work after 2004, yet has judged that information not reliable or definitive enough to overturn the conclusions of the NIE — which again, was precisely my point.

These issues cannot be simplified based on a cursory reading of one paragraph of a report.  They’re much too complex for that.

  • 12 July 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 5 Comments
  • Nuclear file, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Sanctions Are the New Appeasement

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwHBdNwm2fo”]

Citizens United — famous for winning the Supreme Court case that ruled corporations have first amendment rights — has used the massive influx of cash that came with their notoriety to put together this ad.  It’s a lot of the usual “Obama is Chamberlain; Iran is Hitler” message that has been peddled by dozens of fearmongers since the Bush Administration and before.  But the spot was framed in an interesting light in the press release accompanying the ad, in which Citizens United Presiden David Bossie says:

From the first days of his presidential campaign through today, President Obama has displayed a dangerous naiveté when it comes to the threat that Iran poses to our allies in the Middle East and to the United States itself. History demonstrates that sanctions are not a cure-all for regimes bent on destroying other peaceful nations. The President must step up to this challenge before Iran has the opportunity to develop nuclear weapons. (emphasis added)

“Dangerous naiveté” is not a new criticism of Obama’s Iran policy.  But if you look closely, this is not a criticism of Obama’s engagement strategy. What Citizens United calls Obama’s naiveté seems to be his support for sanctions!  Sanctions aren’t enough, so the President must “step up” and “stop Iran now.”

This echoes the message in a Washington Post op-ed last Friday by former Virginia Senator Charles Robb and retired General Chuck Wald titled “Sanctions alone won’t work on Iran.” They argue that diplomacy and sanctions must be combined with credible threats of military force (what the two call “kinetic action”) if the US is to compel Iran to give up its nuclear program.

It’s been less than two weeks since the President signed new sanctions into law, [and the new law has not even come into force yet] but the groundwork is already being laid for the next escalation.

Now, I do not believe Barack Obama is necessarily leading the country down a path to war with Iran.  But that does not mean there aren’t powerful forces at work in Washington trying to shape a narrative that will make an attack more acceptable.  It would be wholly unsurprising if, the day after an Israeli airstrike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, more media attention is given to how it will have been justified than to the potential catastrophe it could mean for the US and the region at large.

  • 6 July 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 1 Comments
  • Nuclear file, Sanctions

(Re)Fueling Resentment

Airports in the UK, Germany, Kuwait, the UAE and elsewhere are refusing to refuel Iranian passenger planes, citing recently-passed US sanctions on petroleum sales to Iran.

Under the new law, sanctions are triggered once an entity provides one million dollars worth of refined petroleum to Iran, or five million dollars worth in the course of one year.  It’s fair to assume that BP’s contracts with major airports like Heathrow pass that monetary threshold, though BP officials won’t discuss specific contracts.

In discussions over the past two years on Capitol Hill, I’ve never once heard this cited as an intended consequence of the gasoline embargo.  In fact, US unilateral sanctions have come under fire in years past for putting unnecessary strain on Iran’s aging passenger fleet, and indirectly contributing to catastrophic plane crashes.  That is why OFAC has issued specific directives for licensing civilian aircraft parts for export.

This most recent development is yet another in the long history of unintended consequences of US sanctions harming innocent Iranians — and it puts the lie to the public statements from members of Congress and the administration that the sanctions are intended to target the ruling hardliners, not the Iranian people.

  • 3 July 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy

Hot Dog Diplomacy, Take 2

Last year, just before July 4th and only a few months after Obama took office with his pledge to engage Iran, the State Department sent a cable to every US Embassy around the world.  The message: for the first time in decades, Iranian diplomats could attend fourth of July parties.

The idea was met with some hostility in Congress, but overall it was considered a sensible move.  The Dobbins Plan, as it was known, was so popular mostly because the conventional wisdom in Washington agreed that barring American diplomats from interacting with Iranian diplomats abroad was such a self-evidently counterproductive thing to do.  Seriously, for thirty years it hurt Iran not one iota, but deprived us of an entire generation of diplomats who are familiar with Iranians and Iranian officials.

And this prohibition wasn’t a small thing.  When I interned in the US Embassy in Muscat, Oman, the first thing my supervisors told me was that I wasn’t to speak with any Iranian diplomats under any circumstances. I was allowed to shake the hand of an Iranian, but only if I couldn’t avoid it.  (I ended up doing exactly that once, having introduced myself to the guy standing next to me in a receiving line at a reception who happened to be from the Iranian Embassy.  He laughed just as soon as I said I am American, and gave me a knowing nod.)

Among  all the recommendations given to the entering Obama administration, this seemed to everyone like the first change they would enact.

But strangely, the administration has said absolutely nothing about it.  No change to the policy.  Not even a mention.  The prohibition continues.

Friends tell me that it’s only a matter of time before they finally allow low-level diplomatic contact, but by then it will have been more than a year and a half.  I say: it was a good idea last year, and it’s still a good idea this year.  What better way to put our best foot forward than to show Iranians how we celebrate the founding of our democracy?  The message of our founding fathers that imbues every Embassy’s July Fourth celebration is sure to be an appropriate model for Iran during this time of political tumult there.

  • 30 June 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 3 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

Of extended hands and slaps to the face

Now that Congress and the UN Security Council have approved “the toughest Iran sanctions ever written,” the Obama administration has some breathing room to go back to its plan for diplomacy.  But did the engagement strategy ever really start?

If you remember, Obama’s “extended hand” got pretty well chopped off at the wrist on June 12 when Iran’s hardliners declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the victor in an election widely believed to have been fraudulent.  After that came calls for a “tactical pause,” followed by the revelation of the undisclosed enrichment facility at Qom and the abortive attempt to negotiate a fuel swap deal in October.  Taken as a whole, US engagement with Iran under Obama has consisted of two Nowruz messages to the Iranian people, a half hour face-to-face meeting on Oct. 1, the lower level follow-up meeting three weeks later, a letter or two to the Supreme Leader, and that dinner with Mottaki just before the UN sanctions vote that no one thought would accomplish anything.  That’s it.

The sad fact is that Obama’s Iran strategy has focused a lot more on US allies and countries like Russia and China than on Iran.  The bulk of our diplomacy has consisted of Stuart Levey lobbying allied countries to withhold business ties from Iran, and convincing UN Security Council members to impose another round of sanctions.  Even the sanctions themselves target European, Russian, Indian, and Chinese companies — everyone except Iran.

Thus — Republican talking points notwithstanding — Obama has not “wasted a year on diplomacy.”  He’s hardly wasted 24 hours on diplomacy.

That’s why it’s particularly sad to see (former NIAC advisory board member) Amb. John Limbert planning to resign from his position as Undersecretary of State for Iran.  Limbert, a former US hostage in Tehran and the best Farsi-speaker in government, was brought into the administration to negotiate with the Iranians, having literally written the book on negotiating with Iran.  Now, one year later, he’s leaving government to go back to the US Naval Academy after participating in less than a couple of hours of actual talks.  That’s too bad.

And the prospects for starting up talks again don’t look too bright either.  Ahmadinejad announced this week that Iran will be willing to sit back down at the negotiating table in late August, saying the lull is necessary to “punish” the West for imposing more sanctions.  He also laid out his own demands for talks — though don’t expect Iran’s envoys to cling to these preconditions with the same fervor that the Bush administration did to zero enrichment.  To sum them up: there’s only one country’s nuclear program that Ahmadinejad wants to focus on — and it’s not Iran’s.

Take a guess…

  • 21 June 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 3 Comments
  • Congress, Nuclear file, Sanctions

Draft Iran Sanctions Conference Report

House and Senate conference co-chairs Rep. Howard Berman and Sen. Chris Dodd announced today they have formed an agreement on new Iran sanctions legislation, which they are circulating to other members of the conference committee today.

niacINsight has obtained a copy of the legislation, which is expected to be approved formally by the Congress and signed into law by the President in the coming days.

Update:

NIAC Deeply Concerned by Congressional Sanctions Agreement

For Immediate Release

Contact: Phil Elwood
Phone: 202-423-7957
Email: phile@brownlloydjames.com

The National Iranian American Council is deeply concerned by the Conference Agreement announced for H.R. 2194, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act. While the Agreement contains some positive measures called for by NIAC to punish Iranian human rights abusers and ease restrictions preventing Iranians from accessing the Internet, these measures do not negate the fact that the bill imposes further suffering upon the people of Iran at their greatest moment of need and perpetuates a failed US sanctions policy that has hindered the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.

“Congress had an opportunity to stand with the Iranian people by recalibrating US sanctions to target Iran’s government and ease pressures on innocent Iranians,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Policy Director. “Unfortunately, Congress missed that opportunity and is moving forward with another sanctions measure that imposes pain indiscriminately, making no distinction between the people and the government of Iran.”

H.R. 2194 imposes broad “crippling” sanctions targeting Iran’s economy. Congressional leaders have acknowledged that such measures will punish innocent Iranians.

NIAC has consistently urged that any Iran legislation passed by Congress take into account the massive protests and burgeoning democracy movement in Iran that became clear to the world following the disputed June 12, 2009 elections. NIAC advocated for Congress not to send the President legislation that would impose broad sanctions that would undermine and punish the Iranian people.

Instead, NIAC called for Congress to impose punitive measures against human rights abusers and companies that aid Iranian government repression while simultaneously easing pressure on innocent Iranians.

NIAC urged that the final Conference Agreement incorporate all three provisions of the Stand With the Iranian People Act (H.R.4303), including imposing travel restrictions on Iranian human rights abusers, barring federal contracts for companies that provide Iran’s government with repressive technology, and lifting the ban that prevents humanitarian relief and human rights organizations from working in Iran.

The Conference Agreement does include these first two punitive provisions, which NIAC strongly supports. But the Agreement fails to lift restrictions preventing US NGOs from working to promote human rights and humanitarian relief in Iran, instead only lifting restrictions for NGOs working on “promoting democracy.” It is unfortunate that Congress is willing to ease restrictions to promote democracy but not to promote human rights or provide humanitarian relief.

The Agreement acknowledges through non-binding language that “it is in the national interest of the United States” to allow American humanitarian and human right NGOs to work in Iran and to state that the US should ensure American NGOs are not “unnecessarily hindered from working in Iran to provide humanitarian, human rights, and people-to-people assistance” to the Iranian people. This is positive language, but unfortunately it does not carry the force of law and is therefore insufficient.

Additionally, NIAC called for the Conference Agreement to include the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act (H.R.4301) to lift all restrictions that prevent Iranians from accessing software to bypass Internet filters and government surveillance. While NIAC is pleased that the Conference Agreement endorses a March 2010 Administration decision to allow certain communication software to be exported to Iranians, and that it includes exceptions from sanctions for certain hardware used to connect to the Internet, the Conference Agreement does not lift restrictions for all software, such as anti-filtering software, and therefore keeps in place restrictions that prevent Iranians from accessing and communicating the Internet freely. Congress should have ensured that all software and hardware that enables Iranians to communicate freely via the Internet be unrestricted.

“There are a number of unintended consequences under existing US sanctions that isolate the Iranian people and undermine their democratic aspirations,” said Abdi. “By addressing those mistakes and lifting restrictions on humanitarian NGOs and Internet anti-filtering software, Congress could have done something positive to support Iranians, support human rights, and ensure we do not stand in the way of the Iranian people. Unfortunately Congress declined to take this opportunity.”

  • 16 June 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 1 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

What Mousavi’s Charter Means for the Green Movement

Mir Hosein Mousavi’s latest statement — called a “charter” for the Green Movement — is the clearest sign yet that the Iranian opposition is transforming from a purely reformist movement to one demanding more fundamental change to the political system.

Mousavi made a strong case for the separation of church and state in Iran — a direct challenge to the Supreme Leader’s religious and political authority — asserting that that “Laws of the land including the constitution are not eternal and unchangeable.”

“The constitution is not engraved in stone,” He said.

This proclamation can be interpreted as a warning to the ruling elites — that the opposition will not stand idle in the face of political persecution, and will be compelled to take more forceful measures against the government if their demands for the rule of law continue to be rebuffed.

Another leading figure, Sayed Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was jailed during the post-election turmoil, has written an important analysis of the current state of affairs in Iran, apologizing for the “mistakes of the first decade of the Revolution,” which included violence and repression on the part of many leading opposition figures today.

We all made many mistakes at that time but, today, instead of continuing the positive aspects of what we did, [the rulers] are continuing the same mistakes…Let me state it as clearly as possible, that our consenting silence regarding the [the actions of the] revolutionary courts [in the 1980s] was our mistake; but mass arrests of law-abiding critics, rendering the protesting citizens “Kahrizaki” and shooting at them directly are so repugnant that they can no longer be referred to as “mistakes.”

Tajzadeh echoed the Ayatollah Khomeini’s declaration that “every generation must decide its own fate,” continuing:

We cannot claim to be adherents of the Paris declaration [by Ayatollah Khomeini in the fall of 1978] about democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, the press, political parties and the Voice and Visage, women’s and ethnic rights, free elections, and republicanism and its link with Islam, but not speak out against the root cause, reasons, impediments, and mistakes that prevent these from materializing.

Some may argue that the opposition is no longer viable, and that the hard-liners have solidified their hold on power since last year.  But the tactics they have used to remain in power have in fact created more and more opposition. By ruling through fear; by outlawing normal political activity; by employing cruel methods to silence dissent, Iran’s hardliners are only swelling the ranks of opposition and increasing popular disaffection.

  • 11 June 2010
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 3 Comments
  • Iranian Youth

Michael Rubin Wants to Let Iran Decide US Immigration Policy

Michael Rubin, writing at the Corner this week, took half a second to criticize NIAC’s work on expanding opportunities for Iranian students who want to come study in the US.  I say half a second because Rubin doesn’t seem to have actually read the article we wrote, having missed the point of it entirely.

According to Rubin, the US should not expand the number or types of visas offered to Iranian students without demanding parity from Iran. “It would be more productive if the White House, Senate, and State Department” would make US visa policy for Iran mirror Iran’s visa policy for Americans, he says.

I, for one, was surprised Michael Rubin — one of the most vehemently anti-Iran people in all of Washington — would actually suggest that American visa policy should be dictated by Ahmadinejad and Khamenei.

Working at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Rubin shouldn’t take lightly the idea of handing over American immigration policy to Iran.

I don’t think he’s going to win many friends that way — at least not outside of Ahmadinejad’s inner-circle.

What’s more, Rubin clearly doesn’t understand what NIAC and thousands of other Iranian-Americans have called for. Providing multi-entry visas does not affect the control of the visa interviews, as Rubin suggested (although it was a nice touch when he implied that Iranians coming to the US might be terrorists).  Really, he’s just opposed to the US doing anything that he views as a concession to Iran or its people.

But that’s precisely the problem: in Rubin’s view, helping the Iranian people is the same as helping the Iranian government. Forget that millions of Iranians stood up to protest against the government last year — Rubin simply can’t distinguish the Iranian people from the regime he so despises.

Sure, he shed some crocodile tears during the post-election crackdown last year, but now that protesters aren’t being killed in the streets he’s fallen back into his old habits again.  And one of those habits is opposing any measure that could help ease the life of ordinary Iranians.

The fact is, Rubin’s criticism of our student visas policy doesn’t have anything to do with the substance of our plan.  That’s obvious because there’s no “there” there.

Iranian students who want to come to the US have to come to grips with the reality that, once they arrive here, they can’t leave until graduation. The single-entry policy for Iranians means they have no choice but to miss out on academic conferences or other opportunities abroad; it means they’ll be unable to visit their homes for two, four, six years or more; and it means that they will be unable to return home in the event of some tragic family emergency.  We at NIAC have spoken directly with a student in Virginia who couldn’t attend his father’s funeral because he couldn’t obtain a return visa.

These are good kids we’re talking about here — many are destined for successful careers as engineers, doctors, or lawyers — and many of them are more than willing to jump through as many hoops and security checks as it takes just to be able to have the option of going home once or twice during their six-year PhD programs.  So, despite what Mr. Rubin says, no one is talking about undercutting control mechanisms in our immigration process.

What we’re talking about is making a small but significant overture to the youth of Iran — the future of Iran — to give them an opportunity to live and study here in the United States without forcing them to choose between an education and their family.   We’re talking about distinguishing between Iranians and the Iranian government.  We’re talking about doing something decent for the Iranian people.

In fact, President Obama called for more Iranian students to come to the US just a few months ago. The multi-entry visa will help make the President’s promise a reality.

No wonder Michael Rubin didn’t get it.

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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