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Persian Gulf

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

Time is Ripe For An Incidents at Sea Agreement

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”.

  • 7 February 2014
  • Posted By Samia Basille
  • 0 Comments
  • MEK, Persian Gulf

House Hearing Examines Iran-Iraq Relations

Brett McGurk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran, spoke at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing about Al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq on Wednesday, February 5. Answering the questions of several lawmakers, he notably addressed the critical role that Iran plays in the complicated Iraqi political realm.

When Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) expressed concern over supposed close ties between Iraqi senior officials and the Iranian government, mentioning reports that Iraq is allowing Iran to fly over its territory to arm Hezbollah in Syria, McGurk offered a more nuanced picture of the relationship between the two countries. While he acknowledged that Iraqis should be more active in seeking to stop overflights to Syria, he also stressed that “Iraq’s relation with Iran is multifaceted. . . We found very few instances in which we have seen Iraq acting at the behest of Iran.” He cited Iraq’s oil production, its ratification of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol in 2012, and their support of the Geneva 1 communiqué about transition of power in Syria as evidence that Iraq maintains independence from Iran.

According to McGurk, the Iraqi government is also careful to enforce international sanctions against Iran, although “they share a 3000 km border. There is trade, there are cultural ties. It’s impossible to stop everything.” He pointed out that Iraqis have increased their oil output and cut off many transactions with Iranian banks. Rep. George Holding (R-NC) mentioned negotiations between Iraq and Iran over the possible construction of a pipeline that would supply Iranian gas for new power plants in the Iraqi province of Basra. McGurk recognized that “the pipeline is concerning if it goes forward.”

The future of Camp Liberty, which shelters 2,900 members of Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) – a cult-like group widely opposed by Iranians that was only recently removed from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations – was also repeatedly questioned by lawmakers. The camp has been attacked by outside groups on several occasions, leading to efforts to relocate the camp’s residents. While the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) seeks to relocate the militants outside of Iraq — some members were already relocated to Albania and Germany — the MEK’s leadership has ceased cooperating and has prevented further members from leaving the camp. As Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, indicated last year, the MEK leadership has not allowed residents of the camp to know their options for relocation.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) insisted that Iranian Americans living in his district are extremely worried about the lives of family members and friends belonging to the MEK. He told McGurk: “Many of those people are sitting behind you . . . wanting for help.” McGurk agreed that this issue should be an international human rights concern, and that countries around the world should work to relocate them.

While McGurk seemed confident that Iraq-Iran relations do not threaten U.S. interests, he insisted that such issues are not addressed in the current talks between the Western powers and Iran: “Given the existential threat that a nuclear Iran would pose to our interests in the region, we focus the nuclear negotiations specifically on the nuclear issue.”

  • 10 September 2012
  • Posted By Brett Cox
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Election 2012, Persian Gulf, Sanctions

The Realities of “Preventive” Strikes

Certain media outlets as well as conservative political camps in both the US and Israel would have you believe that it would take no more than a few days of airstrikes to delay and/or end Iran’s nuclear program. This claim is misleading in more ways than I can count, but here are a few.

Compared to the peaceful options laid out by Trita Parsi at last week’s Wilson Center panel discussion, “preventive strikes” carry a high risk of Iranian retaliation, regional war and American casualties. Pacifist fluff? Hardly. Take it from Admiral Michael Mullen:

“The US is aware that the action of a military strike could be destabilizing for the entire Middle East region and potentially generate a nuclear weapons race in that part of the world. I think an attack would also be, by us or by anybody else, very destabilizing.”

Further, according to a report published by CSIS, Gen. James N. Mattis, Commander of US Central Command, told aides that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.

The report CSIS outlines that retaliation from Iran would include “swarm tactics” on a heavy US naval presence and a potential rain of missiles from Iran – well known in the region for an ample ballistic missile program. Missile attacks on Gulf neighbors, all members of a united Gulf Cooperation Council, would give them a right to return fire in self-defense.

  • 7 May 2012
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 90 Comments
  • Persian Gulf

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

The Persian GulfIf you have visited Google Maps recently, you may have noticed that Google has removed the title of the Persian Gulf—leaving the body of water without a name.

This follows Google’s 2008 decision to include the historically inaccurate and politically charged name “Arabian Gulf” alongside “Persian Gulf” in their Google Earth application.

The name “Persian Gulf” is historically accurate, legally acknowledged, apolitical and internationally recognized.  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—including by the likes of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

In 2004, NIAC successfully worked with National Geographic to correct its maps that used the erroneous title for the Persian Gulf.  Now, we need to act to make sure Google is not a tool of historical revisionism that sows ethnic and political divisions.

Sign your name on our open letter to Google’s CEO Larry Page to call on Google to stop playing name games with the Persian Gulf and to use the correct name.  We will send the letter out on Monday, May 14, so make sure that you, your friends, and your family sign on to the letter before then.

NIAC will protect your privacy and keep you informed about this and similar campaigns. 

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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Tell Google to Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

Iran News Roundup 01/04

Daylight between Romney and Santorum on war with Iran?

GOP candidate Mitt Romney, responding to Rick Santorum’s rhetoric regarding strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, said that he does not want to threaten any “specific action right now,” in regards to Iran, but endorses military options (Think Progress 01/03).

Santorum has said he would order airstrikes on Iran if the country was going to acquire nuclear weapons, but reasoned to Glen Beck that this was an effort to prevent war (Think Progress 01/04).

Meanwhile, IPS reports that President Obama believes the U.S. could distance itself from Israeli strikes on Iran (IPS 01/03).

And White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the latest threats made by Iran concerning naval operations in the Persian Gulf indicates that “Tehran is under increasing pressure for its continued failure to live up to its international obligations,” and “is isolated and seeking to divert attention from its domestic problems” (The Hill 01/03).

Nuclear rod will not bring Iran closer to nuclear capability

Experts say that Iran’s recent claim that it has developed and tested it’s first nuclear rod will not bring Iran any closer to having atomic bombs (Reuters 01/04).

Meanwhile, a Russian defense official, responding to a series of tests conducted by Ira near the Strait of Hormuz, said that Iran has no long-range missiles (AFP 01/03).

Iranian political activist’s message leaked

A well-known Iranian political activist, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, has recorded a video from inside Iran’s infamous Rajayishahr prison dismissing Iran’s repressive measures aimed at silencing dissent and predicts they will ultimately fail (Rferl 01/03).

Iran News Roundup 01/03

Iran proposes new nuclear negotiations

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, has proposed a new round of talks with the P5+1 nations concerning its nuclear program (Guardian 12/31). Salehi said that Iran is prepared to reenter negotiations based upon the “step by step” plan proposed by Russia in July.

A EU foreign policy spokesman said The European Union is open to talks with Iran provided there are no preconditions (Jerusalem Post 12/31).

This comes as Iran announces it has produced its first domestically-made nuclear fuel rod and inserted it into the Tehran Research Reactor, which is used for medical purposes (NY Times 01/01).

President signs new Iran sanctions into law

On Saturday, president Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 (NDAA), which includes a measure targeting Iran’s central bank and financial sector (AFP 01/01).

In the president’s signing statement, he notes that the [Iran sanctions] section “1245 would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with foreign governments. Like section 1244, should any application of these provisions conflict with my constitutional authorities, I will treat the provisions as non-binding.”

Political analysts said that Washington hopes these sanctions will push foreign banks to change their behavior before the U.S. is required to freeze them from the U.S. financial markets (Reuters 01/02).

Reuters provides a detailed list of sanctions on Iran by the European Union, the United States and the United Nations over the last thirty years(Reuters 01/02).

Greece open to Iran sanctions

A Greek official has stated that if the EU decides to impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, Greece will join and not break ranks with its European Union partners (Reuters 01/03).

Meanwhile, Oil prices jumped to over $101 a barrel amid concerns over crude oil disruptions (Bloomberg 01/03).

Upcoming parliamentary elections a challenge for Iran hardliners

The New York Times reports on how a boycott by reformers and dire economic circumstances may undermine Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections, posing a challenge to Iran’s conservative Islamic establishment (NY Times 01/02).

Iran News Roundup 11/10

Romney attacks Obama on Iran: If you want peace, prepare for war
Ahead of this weekend’s GOP foreign policy debate, Mitt Romney took to the Wall Street Journal to lay out his case against Obama on Iran.  Romney criticizes Obama for saying he would pursue engagement with Iran in the previous election cycle, for not speaking out enough for Iranian dissidents, and for recently rejecting Central Bank sanctions.  Romney says if he were president, the U.S. would escalate military preparations and signaling against Iran and impose further unilateral sanctions if multilateral sanctions are not possible.  (Romney Wall Street Journal 11/10)

Slaughter: Diplomacy is least damaging option with Iran In contrast, former U.S. state Department Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter argues that “continuing with a policy of sanctions and pressure that is not working is worse,” than negotiating a deal that would constrain Iran’s nuclear program.  But domestic politics stand in the way, she says.  If Obama returned to negotiations “he would be hammered by Republican opponents, in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, for negotiating from weakness, affirming US decline, and so on,” she writes.  “But if we are really as worried about an Iranian bomb as we claim to be, results should trump political perceptions.”  (Financial Times 11/10) 

Experts project record oil prices if military action is taken against Iran
Tensions with Iran have put oil prices at their highest levels since July, with the top worry among traders being an Israeli strike against Iran.  Financial Times reports that if war were to break out that oil prices would likely soar to record levels, surpassing the previous high of $175 per-barrel, and go as high as $290. AP says that a teetering global economy means oil sanctions on Iran are likely off the table.  (Financial Times – Iran worries spark fears of $200-a-barrel oil 11/8)(AP – Options for Iran oil sanctions face economic risks 11/9) (Bloomberg – Morgan Stanley Says Disruption in Iran Oil May Raise Prices 11/9)

  • 19 September 2011
  • Posted By Helia Ighani
  • 2 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Congress, Legislative Agenda, Persian Gulf, US-Iran War

U.S. military leaders push for direct communications with Iran

In January 2008, the U.S. Navy was on the verge of opening fire on three Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats, which were taking provocative action in close proximity to the American ships.  Fortunately, no shots were fired that day, but the danger of armed conflict breaking out between two nations already on the brink was clear.

As the Wall Street Journal reported today, a series of “near-miss” encounters between U.S. and Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf has convinced many U.S. military officials that there needs to a direct military hotline between the United States and Iran to defuse any potential situation that could arise.

During a talk at the University of Miami last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen told the audience that he is troubled by the lack of contact between the United States and Iran. “Even in the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said, “U.S. officials could still talk with the Soviets.”

The catalyst behind the recent push rises out of the concern that a run-in between the two severed nations in the Persian Gulf could escalate to a large-scale conflict.  As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said, “This [the Persian Gulf] is a very volatile area. The risk of an incident, and of an incident escalating, is real.”

In fact, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law late last year, included a provision mandating the Pentagon “to assess the merits an Incidents at Sea agreement between the US, Iran, and other states to avoid military confrontation in the Persian Gulf.”  That provision was based on the Incidents at Sea resolution, introduced in the previous Congress by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Geoff Davis (R-KY).

As the Wall Street Journal notes, opening up communications with Iran could not just help prevent a confrontation in the Persian Gulf, it could also develop into a mechanism to stabilize tensions and prevent conflict throughout the region:

“Although that current proposal would only cover naval incidents, some U.S. officials say they believe that if it proves workable and useful it could be expanded into a broader hot line that could be used to defuse not just confrontations at sea, but also a broader array of potential conflicts. The issue is also being studied at the State Department’s Policy Planning office.”

Military leaders, including Mullen, Gates, and David Petraeus, have vigorously pushed back against calls for military strikes on Iran and have emphasized the dangers that war with Iran would bring.  Clearly it is in the interest of those responsible for U.S. troops and national security to prevent a disastrous war.  Establishing direct lines to prevent incidents in the Persian Gulf would be a positive first step, but further talks must be established to address the many volatile issues–such as instability in Afghanistan and Iraq–where conflict could quickly push us past the brink.

  • 26 October 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 2 Comments
  • Persian Gulf

Fueling Ethnic Tensions in the Persian Gulf is Not a Strategy for Middle East Stability

Washington risks entering into a game of escalating provocations with Tehran even as continuing efforts to restart talks in November are underway. Iran’s announcement that the two US hikers being held Evin prison will now face trial just ahead of the talks is no coincidence. The move is particularly shameful considering that these US citizens have been held for over a year without formal charges and recently leaked military reports support the hiker’s assertion that they were captured in Iraq – not in Iran. Meanwhile, last week’s announcement of the largest US arms deal in history, a $60 billion deal with Saudi Arabia that includes advanced aircraft and bunker busting bombs, was clearly aimed at Tehran.

But while the package was branded as an effort to “enhance regional stability” by reassuring Persian Gulf states of the United States’ commitment to their security, the State Department broke its own longstanding protocol and used provocative, ethnically divisive language when announcing the deal.

Instead of using the historically accepted term – and observing State Department protocol – “Persian Gulf”, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro referred to the “Arabian Gulf”, a politically charged phrase with a relatively recent but insidious history.

Tell Secretary Clinton: Referring to Persian Gulf as “Arabian Gulf” Only Fuels Ethnic Tensions ->

Read More on the Huffington Post ->

Leverage Through Sanctions Not a Long-Term Strategy

Last week, the U.S took a page out of its well-worn foreign policy playbook and imposed new sanctions on North Korea. The similarities between the U.S approach to North Korea and Iran are striking, centering on a strategy of sanctions, isolation, and containment.

It can be argued that the U.S has had more success isolating North Korea — though a lot of the responsibility for that also lies with Kim Jong Il (something the hardliners in Tehran should be aware of).  But there is one crucial difference in trying to apply this same model of containment and isolation to Iran, and that is Tehran’s indispensable geostrategic importance.

The Persian Gulf is and will continue to be perhaps the most vital region in the world. Iran is the world’s fourth largest oil producer, thereby providing the government substantial oil revenue, and giving them a key opportunity to ensure that sanctions never fully seal off the country’s economy, as there will also be a buyer for Iranian oil.

For that and other reasons, a policy that depends on isolation and  containment as the sole approach for dealing with Iran is doomed to fail.

By looking into the history of sanctions imposed on Iran, and by spending time in Iran, it’s not difficult to realize that sanctions are not as persuasive as many in Washington might like to believe. Under nearly three decades of sanctions, Iran went from having no enrichment capacity, to creating an indigenous reactor and installing more than 8000 centrifuges. Three rounds of international sanctions did not stymie their efforts to build the planned enrichment facility in Qom. Sanctions did not impede the IRGC’s ballistic missile program that is continually evolving.

Washington’s motto: “Leverage through Sanctions” clearly isn’t working — and it’s not because we haven’t made sanctions “crippling” enough.  It’s because Iran refuses to be bludgeoned into submission.  If a country like Iran faces a choice between economic hardship and absolute humiliation, it’s likely to choose hardship every time.  But if given a chance to save face, it’s very likely that Iran will play ball.  Diplomatic engagement offers a better way forward than sanctions ever will, precisely because diplomacy offers a chance to convey privately all of the ways Iran stands to gain by acceding to the demands of the international community.  It will be a give and take, with concessions on both sides, but it offers a much greater chance of success than sanctions, pressure, and bullying.

What’s more, a diplomatic solution offers a long-term strategy, while sanctions — even if successful — only offer a short-term change of behavior.  Think about it: if the US can make sanctions so painful that Iran gives up its nuclear program, isn’t it likely that future generations will resent that outside pressure being forced upon their country?  Throughout history, this pattern of behavior has given rise to nationalist movements that produce greater degrees of instability in the long run than the original conflict ever would have.

Alternatively, negotiated settlements offer the chance of a win-win, with no loss of national prestige and possibly even a net benefit for the country overall.