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  • 26 June 2012
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Israel, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Clinton and Baker on Iran, Israeli strikes, and diplomacy

In an interview with Charlie Rose at the State Department  last Wednesday, June 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Former Secretary of State James Baker discussed the role of diplomacy in resolving US- Iranian tensions [watch the interview here, read the transcript here].

Baker said the U.S. must pursue all non-military means to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, but if those efforts fail, the U.S. would have to “take them out.”   Clinton insisted that diplomatic options for dealing with Iran had not yet been exhausted, and warned that a foreign attack could unify and legitimize the regime. She said,  there are some hardliners in Iran who ” are saying the best thing that could happen to us is be attacked by somebody, just bring it on, because that would unify us, it would legitimize the regime.” Instead of giving the hardliners this credibility, Clinton said of the diplomatic process that the US should “take this meeting by meeting and pursue it as hard as we can” in order to find a peaceful agreement.

  • 15 September 2011
  • Posted By Sina Kashefipour
  • 1 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy

Afghanistan’s Hidden Opportunity

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan has become the world’s leading producer of opium and heroin.   This has humanitarian as well as security implications for both the United States and Iran and highlights perhaps the most obvious issue where mutual antagonism between the United States and Iran has prevented the two countries from working together to achieve common goals.

The majority of Afghanistan’s opium and its derivative heroin flow directly into Iran. While opium has been the drug of choice in Iran for quite a long time, the growing inflows of opium are creating massive social, humanitarian and law enforcement problems.  Iran’s approach to addiction has been remarkably progressive – utilizing methadone clinics and even needle exchange programs, as well as creating a social environment where drug addiction is viewed as a health issue instead of a criminal one.  But as Iran struggles with the massive inflows of heroin, it’s approach to drug traffickers has grown increasingly extreme.  The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) has documented the increasing use of executions performed in secret and with little respect for due process and transparency, even though Iranian officials have reportedly acknowledged this approach has been unsuccessful.

For the U.S., the main concern is that opium is a significant source of funding for the Afghan Taliban and fuels the anti-American insurgency that 100,000 U.S. troops are currently working to defeat.  Compounding the problem, the millions of dollars from the opium trade have helped corrupt the Afghan government from the ground up.

As a result of this common problem, Afghanistan seems like an obvious place for the U.S. and Iran to cooperate and start to build the trust that is necessary to complete any deal that would limit Iran’s nuclear program and avert a potential war.  In fact, the United States and Iran cooperated closely to help stabilize Afghanistan after 9/11, though this cooperation ended after President Bush labeled Iran part of the “Axis of Evil” and ignored several later overtures for cooperation.

This lack of cooperation has not changed under the Obama administration, even as stabilizing Afghanistan has become one of President Obama’s biggest foreign policy challenges and a major political liability.  Instead, the Obama administration seems to have effectively made resolving the nuclear issue a precondition to developing more comprehensive initiatives that could take advantage of the common ground between the U.S. and Iran on issues like Afghanistan.

That Ahmadinejad’s often incendiary rhetoric and Iran’s penchant for brinksmanship have undermined confidence that a deal can be reached goes without saying.  But these factors are compounded by the fact that the U.S. and Iran are stuck on the hardest issue, the nuclear issue, with a crippling lack of trust impeding any progress.

But now Ahmadinejad is repeating his offer to cooperate on Afghanistan and is saying Iran is prepared to stop enriching uranium to 20%.  Combined with the fact that Iranian diplomats are reportedly dropping their unrealistic preconditions and are saying they are willing to implement the safeguards needed to ensure Iran cannot clandestinely build a nuclear weapon, this is an important development.  Of course, the U.S. needs to proceed with caution; the case of the U.S. hikers demonstrates clearly that the infighting within the Iranian government continues to make diplomacy even more challenging.  But there is simply no reason not to engage Iran on a range of key issues – from the nuclear issue to Afghanistan to human rights.  In fact, on Tuesday Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Washington Post:

“We [Iran and the U.S.] can have cooperation for Afghan stability and security. We can cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking and fight against terrorism.”

The only way to test the sincerity of what Ahmadinejad is saying is to reinvigorate diplomacy.  If Iran is bluffing, the U.S. can demonstrate that to the world and increase international pressure for Iran to get serious.  And if Iran isn’t bluffing, then we’re getting somewhere.

  • 10 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 2 Comments
  • Afghanistan

Iran Interested in Stable Afghanistan…For Now

The Sunday Times has recently claimed that Iran has been involved in training insurgents in Afghanistan to kill NATO troops. This claim has in turn been repeated by various other news sources like FOX News, The Australian, Global Times, Taipei Times, etc.

But the source of this allegation is two Taliban commanders. How kind of the Taliban to go and willingly volunteer this information to the media:

“Taliban commanders have revealed that hundreds of insurgents have been trained in Iran to kill Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The commanders said they had learnt to mount complex ambushes and lay improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have been responsible for most of the deaths of British troops in Helmand province.

The accounts of two commanders, in interviews with The Sunday Times, are the first descriptions of training of the Taliban in Iran.

According to the commanders, Iranian officials paid them to attend three-month courses during the winter.”

I’m not saying that there is no possibility that Iran has provided some support for the Taliban in Afghanistan — it’s possible, and I’m not a CIA agent, so I don’t know for sure.  But I am saying that the Taliban isn’t exactly the most trustworthy source when it comes to Iran.

The Taliban and Iran have historically been enemies. In fact, after the Taliban came to power in 1996, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei denounced the group as an affront to Islam.

When in power, the Taliban backed Sunni Islamist militants who were launching attacks against the Iranian regime, which is based on Shi’a Islam. In addition to such attacks, the Taliban has also received strong backing from Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist Wahhabi rulers, who are allies of the United States, and with whom Iran constantly competes for influence in the region.

It should also be noted that in 1998, the Taliban captured Mazare Sharif and massacred thousands of Hazara civilians, mainly Shi’a, as well as nine Iranian diplomats.  Following this attack, Afghanistan and Iran nearly went to war as both countries mobilized troops along their shared border.

Thus, not only is the Taliban an ideological threat to the Islamic Republic, but the Iranians also view them as a threat to Iranian security.

Which is why Iran has been heavily involved in rebuilding Afghanistan following the war to overthrow the Taliban in 2001 (which Iran assisted). Currently, Iran and Afghanistan’s engage in more than $1.3 billion in bilateral trade. Additionally, according to the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran, four percent of Iran’s total exports in 2006 went to Afghanistan, accounting for more than $503 million. Tehran’s aid also has certified joint investment companies, sponsored food fairs, opened cement factories, extended purchase credits to traders, and trained commercial pilots.

An additional concern of Iran is the large number of Afghan refugees that have been in Iran since the Soviet Invasion in 1979. While the Afghan refugee population in Iran has decreased since the fall of the Taliban, the UNHCR still reported approximately 933,500 registered Afghan refugees in Iran in June 2009.

General public opinion in Iran is that the Afghan refugees pose a significant burden and it is time they return to Afghanistan. This is reflective of both high levels of unemployment in Iran and the general concern over increasing drug smuggling and violence on the border.

Obviously, then, Iran recognizes that it is in its interest to promote a stable Afghanistan. This is a huge opportunity for mutual cooperation between the US and Iran, and one that deserves to be pursued further.

According to most experts, there is in fact one thing that could cause Iran to fully and enthusiastically throw its support behind its enemy, the Taliban: a US attack.

  • 3 December 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 6 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy, Human Rights in Iran

What Obama didn’t say on Tuesday night

photo credit: The White House, Pete Souza

Tuesday night, President Obama delivered a much-anticipated speech on the situation in Afghanistan.  He announced that he will be sending 30,000 additional troops in the first part of 2010, and will begin withdrawing troops in the Summer of 2011.

The speech made no direct references to Iran, and only vaguely touched on Obama’s nuclear nonproliferation strategy in general.  But according to Jim Fine at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, President Obama “missed a golden opportunity” in the speech to kick-start the stalled diplomacy with Iran.

In October, 2001, American military and diplomatic officials began meeting privately with officials from Iran to discuss the impending war in Afghanistan.  Following the September 11th attacks, America’s mission in Afghanistan was to root out al Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban–a mission that Iran shared with us and actually supported.

Over the next few months, American and Iranian officials worked together on countless issues involving the war against the Taliban, as has been well documented by Amb. James Dobbins and Hillary Mann Leverett, both of whom participated in these discussions with Iranians.  According to Dobbins, the Iranian delegation provided extremely valuable contributions to the formation of the Afghan provisional government, even working to ensure that Afghan elections will be fair and democratic.  Leverett has recounted stories of her Iranian counterpart going so far in their cooperation as to pull out a map of Afghan territory and pointing out locations that American planes should bomb.

The cooperation between the US and Iran on Afghanistan was fruitful and unprecedented.  Unfortunately, it came to an end when President Bush declared Iran to be part of the “Axis of Evil.”

But here is what Obama missed on Tuesday night: we need all the help we can get in Afghanistan right now.  We’ve asked for troop commitments from NATO partners, but most likely won’t get more than a couple thousand.  President Obama should have lamented the end of US-Iranian cooperation on Afghanstan in his speech on Tuesday as an effective tool that we no longer have at our disposal.  “Isn’t it a shame,” he should have said “that we responded so callously to Iran’s cooperation?”  And yet, isn’t it such a shame also that Iran’s behavior in recent weeks on the nuclear negotiations make it impossible for us to cooperate on Afghanistan the way we did before?

The United States should be willing to cooperate with Iran on Afghanistan, and should not hold hostage every other issue of potential mutual cooperation just because there has been no progress in the nuclear talks.  In fact, all sides claim to want to build confidence through the negotiations; what better way to build confidence than to work together on critical issues?

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran John Limbert has said “If we focus solely on the nuclear issue when dealing with Iran, we will fail.” It’s in America’s best interest to raise human rights concerns in dealing with Iran, and it’s in America’s best interest to work together with Iran on areas of mutual concern.

We have a job to do in Afghanistan, and it won’t be easy.  If Iran becomes a useful partner again, and helps us defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, then I suspect a little bit of the mistrust that has made negotiations so difficult up to now will begin to evaporate.

  • 13 August 2009
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • 3 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy

U.S. sees Iranian aid to Taliban as insubstantial

Reuters (and only Reuters) has the story:

The United States believes that Iran has supplied arms to insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan but top advisers to President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that the information was conflicting and any threat appeared unsubstantial.

Shi’ite Iran is not a comfortable ally of the hardline Sunni Taliban, but analysts say Tehran may be providing some support to tie down and irritate U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, the U.S. commander of international forces in Afghanistan accused Iran of supporting the Taliban but said he had not seen the introduction of sophisticated Iranian military equipment of the kind that was sent to Iraq.

“We get conflicting reports on that,” Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a panel organized by the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, when asked if Iran was supporting the insurgency.

Holbrooke’s senior defense advisor, Vikram Singh, said: “Certainly, the Iranians have in the past provided some arms to some groups inside Afghanistan. I do not think it has been viewed from a defense perspective as a substantial effort or a substantial threat.”

A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Iranian assistance came mainly in the form of arms, rather than direct training of militants

“There’s reason to believe that Iran is supplying arms and other materials to insurgents in Afghanistan, including the Taliban,” the official said.

He provided no details about the types of arms.

Holbrooke said Tehran had a “legitimate role to play in the resolution of the Afghan issue.”

“They are a factor. And to pretend that they’re not, as was often done in the past, doesn’t make much sense,” Holbrooke said, but added: “We don’t have any direct contacts with them on this.”

Drug addiction is a major problem in Iran and Holbrooke said “those drugs are coming across the Afghan border and it is a major concern to them.”

Obviously, this is a divergence from the Bush administration, which often played up the role of Iran in Afghanistan.

  • 31 March 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 0 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy

As Israel installs new hardline PM, US and Iran meet on Afghanistan

clinton-bibi

Today, Benjamin Netanyahu will become Israel’s newest Prime Minister, leading a hardline Likud government alongside Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist (and largely racist) Yisrael Betenyu party and incorporating Ehud Barak’s Labor party.  The newly-formed government will place Kadima leader Tzipi Livni in the awkward position of leading the pro-peace movement (Livni is not widely regarded as a dove by any standards, but is nowhere near as hawkish as PM Netanyahu).

I recently attended a very interesting blogger discussion at the New America Foundation that Steve Clemmons put on to discuss all of this, which you can read about over at the Washington Times’ Potus Notes.  Basically, I left the meeting with the extremely depressing notion that despite President Obama’s emphasis on the peace process, Israelis and Palestinians are farther away from a deal today than they were even a few months ago.

In slightly more positive news, the so-called “Big Tent” meeting on Afghanistan is going on today at the Hague, with both Iranian and American diplomats in attendance.  Secretary of State Clinton invited the Iranian delegation to cooperate on stabilization efforts in Afghanistan, which was the first of a series of very positive moves by the Obama administration to kick off its plan to engage with Iran.

As we heard from Hillary Mann Leverett at our briefing last week, it’s important for Iran to send a signal at this conference that it is capable of reciprocating positive moves from Washington.  Iran needs to make it clear that on issues of mutual interest, there is nothing standing in the way of their full cooperation.

Unfortunately, as Laura Rozen pointed out last night, it’s not off to a great start.  The US is sending Secretary of State Clinton to the meeting, but Iran will be represented by the deputy foreign minister, Mehdi Akhundzadeh.  According to Trita:

“They are talking, and they will be there at the table, but they are sending lesser representation that is not on the par” with the other delegations, notes Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a Washington group that advocates for engagement between Washington and Tehran. “It does send a signal,” that Iran is holding back somewhat on regional cooperation talks until “they have practical indications of America’s [larger] strategic objective with Iran,” he says. Tehran’s response is “predictable,” if unfortunate, he says, adding that Tehran’s “emulating Bush’s insistence on preconditions would be a mistake.”

update: The Cable is reporting that Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke held a “brief and cordial exchange” with the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister.  Also, Sec. Clinton said that she ordered a letter to be delivered to the Iranian delegation asking for informaion on the whereabouts of Robert Levinson and calling for the release of Roxanna Saberi.

update 2: The Atlantic is reporting on an eye-popping interview with Netanyahu in which he told Obama in very stark language that if the US doesn’t stop Iran soon, Israel will.

“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”

  • 5 March 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 0 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy, UN

Clinton sets date for first US-Iran meeting on Afghanistan

From the New York Times:

BRUSSELS — Setting up the prospect of its first face-to-face encounter with Iran, the Obama administration proposed a conference on Afghanistan later this month that is likely to include Iran among the invited participants, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.

“We presented the idea of what is being called a big-tent meeting, with all the parties who have a stake and an interest in Afghanistan,” Mrs. Clinton said at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers here. “We hope that this meeting could provide an opportunity to reach a common set of principles.’

Bravo.  In what I hope is the first step in a long process of making face-to-face US/Iran meetings completely unremarkable and commonplace, Secretary of State Clinton has set up a conference on Afghanistan that will include all of the country’s neighbors, scheduled for March 31.  No word yet on whether Iran will accept the invitation.

  • 13 November 2008
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 1 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran

Abduction of Iranian diplomat could spur US-Iran cooperation

From the New York Times:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Gunmen abducted an Iranian diplomat in the chaotic city of Peshawar in Pakistan’s northwest Thursday, a day after the assassination of an American aid official there.

The diplomat, Hesmatollah Atharzadeh, who was the commercial counselor at the Iranian consulate, was leaving his house in the suburb of Hayatabad when the gunmen attacked, the police said. His driver also was killed.

Reports blame Taliban militants for the abduction as well as the surge in recent violence in Pakistan’s tribal areas.  Though the mounting crisis in Pakistan is a terrible tragedy, one can’t ignore the implications it could have on regional politics.

This most recent Taliban attack on an Iranian diplomat could push Tehran closer to cooperating with the US on Afghanistan and Pakistan.   With a common enemy in the Taliban, the US and Iran both stand to gain by teaming up to bring greater stability to the area.

Also, in light of the recent news about Obama’s plan to engage Iran on Afghanistan, (and I hate to belittle the news of this attack) this just might prove to be a catalyst for greater US-Iran cooperation.

Obama administration to engage Iran on Afghanistan

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Obama administration will look to Iran for assistance in Afghanistan. Obama strategists have said that the idea is to have Iran as an interlocutor rather than another element which impedes progress. Iran’s record in Afghanistan can be seen as a both a positive force for change– aiding US troops against insurgents and helping to overthrow the Taliban–and an obstacle to progress by funding the insurgents.

The incoming administration cites many reasons as to why Iran and the US can be on the same page about Afghanistan, not the least of which is that neither the US nor Iran “want Sunni extremists in charge of Afghanistan.” Additionally, the growing violence threatens not only the US’ continued objective of supporting a relative democracy but also the stability of surrounding states.

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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