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E Pluribus Unum

It’s no challenge trying to find an American flag and seal in the U.S. State Department. Almost every place you look, you can find our nation’s beautiful seal decorated with these powerful words, “E Pluribus Unum” meaning Out of Many One.

But the reason I went to the State Department was not just to admire the flags and phrases, but to attend a conference,  The Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum.  As an Iranian American, I was interested to hear from Hillary Clinton about how diaspora communities like mine fit into the diverse American tapestry.

Kris Balderston opened the conference and noted that nowadays the meaning of our nation’s motto has transformed into a similar concept that we are one nation united under the precepts of being Americans working together towards common goals. No matter what country of origin, ethnicity, religion, or gender the citizens belong to, they are all striving towards the same things whether it is education, freedom, or peace. The purpose of this conference is to recognize and connect all the different Diasporas in the United States and provide them with a road map to the future full of success and achievement of common goals. Additionally, the conference encourages building bridges from the Diasporas in the U.S. to their countries of origin, via people to people interactions.

  • 27 October 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Events in DC, NIAC round-up, US-Iran War

Iran news roundup

Fareed Zakaria says Iran sanctions are enriching IRGC, Obama’s policy is same as Bush’s, and it’s time for talks
Zakaria notes that the Obama of 2008 held that we needed to break away from the pressure-only strategy of the Bush administration and increase diplomatic engagement with Iran.  Now two years into the Obama administration, the U.S.’s policy on Iran has begun to resemble the pressure only strategy of the Bush years.  Fresh from his recent trip to Tehran, Zakaria says the result has been the strengthening of the state and the weakening of the private sector and civil society.  Zakaria calls for Obama to return to the principles he set in 2008 to break with the failed policies of the Bush Administration and find a diplomatic route to break the impasse. (Washington Post 10/26)

Yasaman Baji – Iran experiencing increase in nationalism, anti-U.S. sentiment, and criticism of its politicians in wake of alleged Iranian assassination plot
According to Baji, the recent revelation about an alleged plot by the Iranians to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the related uptick in tensions, has been met with skepticism by Iranians.  She says they are troubled by what they interpret as the U.S.’s intention to weaken Iran with increased sanctions and laying the ground work for a future military attack.  This has led to a strengthening of Iranian nationalism and has increased criticism of the U.S., according to Baji, but she also notes Iranians fault the hardline approach of the Iranian government and the Ahmadinejad administration. (Yasaman Baji –Inter Press Service 10/24)

Iran says interested in returning to negotiations with world powers
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast announced that Iran was ready to restart negotiations with the international community over its nuclear program.  He said that Iran is “ready for useful dialogue and negotiation…which can be based on talks regarding cooperation on common ground.”  The impetus behind this latest public statement by Iran is believed to be EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s recent letter to Iran, where she offered a resumption of negotiations.  The Iranian deputy foreign minister in charge of European and American affairs, Ali Ahani, claimed that the forthcoming official Iranian response to Ashton’s overture was going to be “softer in tone” than it had been in the past. (Daily Star 10/26)

Changes by Google’s may obstruct Iranian citizen’s ability to get around government online censorship
Iranian internet users’ ability to skirt government censorship might be jeopardized by an upcoming move by Google to make changes to its RSS reader, Google Reader.  Iranians, who live in a country with some of the most intense internet censorship in the world, depend on Google Reader to get around government censorship. While these changes are likely to have only a limited effect on Google Reader users in the U.S., they are expected to have a large impact on the average Iranian’s ability to avoid governmental censorship. (TechCrunch 10/26)

Supreme Leader hints at future move to abolish Presidency
Recently, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei publically suggested that in the future the Iranian presidency may no longer be necessary.  In place of the publically elected president Khamenei indicated that a parliamentary chosen Prime Minister could be created.  These comments by Khamenei may be only a threat to current President Ahmadinejad or they could be evidence that a plan to remove the presidency is being seriously looked into.  Ahmadinejad’s recent challenges to Khamenei and the unrest following the 2009 presidential elections may have demonstrated to Khamenei that the existence of a publically elected president poses a significant threat to his power and can lead to public mobilization that is hard to control. (Reuters 10/25) (New York Times 10/26)

Joint Subcommittee Hearing on Iran
On Wednesday the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management held a joint hearing entitled “Iranian Terror Operations on American Soil.”  The panel of speakers included Gen. Jack Keane, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Dr. Matt Levitt, Dr. Lawrence Korb, and Col. Timothy Geraghty.

Commentary on the event discussed the level of rhetoric that occurred when “House Republicans gave the stage Wednesday to hardliners who called for everything from cyber attacks to political assassinations.” (Huffington Post 10/26)(LA Times 10/26)

Al Gharib pointed out that General Keane’s claim during the hearing that Iran has been America’s “number one strategic enemy” since 1980 neglected to recall that in the 80’s the U.S. was in the middle of the Cold War and saw the U.S.S.R. as the largest strategic threat. (Think Progress 10/26)

In his opening remarks, Committee chairman Peter King claimed that Iranian diplomats inside the U.S. are acting as spies and should be kicked out of the country.  Additionally, he expressed his belief that the recent alleged assassination plot was an “act of war” by Iran. (Huffington Post 10/27)

Statements and video of the hearing can be found on the Homeland Security Committee’s website.

Chinese tech firm Huawei assisting Iranian government to crackdown on reformists
The Chinese tech firm Huawei is today Iran’s second largest mobile phone service provider.  In addition to normal cell phone services, it has been reported that the company is also assisting the Iranian government and IRGC in its crackdown on dissidents.  As a cell phone service provider Huawei has access to both their users’ locations and communications.  By passing this information to the Iranian authorities it is allegedly helping Iran arrest and quiet dissent in the country. (Wall Street Journal 10/27)

Clinton gives interview with Voice of America Persian and Parazit on U.S.-Iran relations
Giving two interviews in the same day directed at the Iranian people, Secretary of State Clinton discussed both the U.S.’s relationship with the Iranian government and its relationship with the Iranian citizenry.   While she did express her concern that Iran was moving from a dictatorship to a military dictatorship, she also stated that she hoped to see the U.S. reengage with Tehran to find a peaceful solution to their problems.  Addressing the Iranian public, she explained that she desired to see the U.S. forge a stronger relationship with the Iranian people.  To assist in this process, she announced the launching of a “virtual embassy” before the end of the year.  The role of the online embassy would be to help facilitate Iranian study and travel to the U.S. (EA World View 11/26)

“All Options” on Iran Must Include Diplomacy

For the first time since the May 2010 “Tehran Declaration,” Iran has offered a proposal that could break the deadlock over its nuclear program.  While there are many unanswered questions about the contours of the proposal and about Iran’s motivations for offering it, there is only one way to answer those questions: renewed diplomacy.

According to Iran’s atomic energy chief, Iran is proposing that the IAEA would be granted “full supervision” of Iran’s nuclear program for five years in exchange for the removal of sanctions.

This proposal may be the first glimmer of opportunity towards a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.  It could present a rare chance for the U.S. and Iran to get negotiations on track after the false start of October 2009 and the diplomatic purgatory that set in with the implementation new UN and U.S. sanctions.

But while the details of any such proposal have yet to be laid out and would obviously have to be settled at the negotiating table, some—notably the Washington Post in a September 6th editorial—have already dismissed the proposal it out of hand.  In the past, the limited process of diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran has been undermined by each side dismissing the other’s proposals out of hand; and each time, the conflict has become more dangerous and more entrenched.

While sanctions and sabotage efforts have reportedly slowed Iran’s nuclear progress, and as recent reports show that U.S. diplomatic efforts have convinced China to “put the brakes on oil and gas investments in Iran,” the Iranian nuclear program is advancing, albeit at a slower pace.  It is widely acknowledged that sanctions have not changed Iran’s strategic calculus regarding its nuclear program.

The fact is, sanctions were never supposed to do that by themselves.  Even those who supported the sanctions touted them as a means to bring Iran back to the table for a deal.  But now that Iran has signaled a potential willingness to come to the table, we have to ask ourselves whether we value the idea of sanctions more than a potential diplomatic solution.

The idea that sanctions would be lifted in exchange for full supervision is a test for those who said the goal of sanctions was to serve as leverage.  By definition, a lever must be able to move.  Our sanctions regime, we may come to find out, is a lever that is stuck in place—a monument to “toughness” that places form over function.

  • 26 October 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 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 ->

  • 19 February 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • Diplomacy, US-Iran War

2+2=Regime Change

Many of us acknowledge that most major media outlets limit their reporting on Iran to one or two narratives, spinning the news to focus only on the nuclear weapons or regime change.  But today the Washington Post has gone one step further and has actually distorted the message in a letter from one of its own readers to fit into one of the status quo narratives.

The letter to the editor in question, which discusses Hillary Clinton’s recent comments that Iran is becoming a military dictatorship, is titled “Hillary Clinton conveys hope for regime change in Iran”.  What’s peculiar is that what the letter says is actually the EXACT OPPOSITE.

The letter states that Hillary Clinton’s comments “should be read as a clear indication, if it wasn’t clear before, that “regime change” is dead as a U.S. policy goal toward Iran”.  The writer explains that Clinton’s comments “implied that as much as the U.S. government disagrees with Iranian policies, it concedes the legitimacy of its civilian institutions, as opposed to the illegitimate exercise of power by the Revolutionary Guard Corps.”  Somehow to the Washington Post this reads as “Clinton conveys hope for regime change”.

It’s one thing when media outlets spin the news.  But the Washington Post spinning its own letters section, that’s something you don’t see everyday.

Hillary Clinton conveys hope for regime change in Iran

  • 16 February 2010
  • Posted By Nayda Lakelieh
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Persian Gulf, Sanctions, Uncategorized

Clinton: Iran’s shift towards Military dictatorship

The NY  times reports that Secretary of State Clinton  sparked more tension with Iran on Monday by suggesting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards is shifting the nation towards a military dictatorship, as the IRGC is gaining more political, economic, and military power.

“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Notably, Secretary Clinton impelled Iran’s political and religious leaders to stand-up against the IRGC, and “take back the authority which they should be exercising on behalf of the people”. This would be the closest any senior US administration official has come to encouraging political disturbance in the nation.

Iranian officials did not take the news lightly, and Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki promptly responded that the description of a military dictatorship could also be applied to America. Mottaki further accused the US of using “fake words” and “modern deceit” to mask Washington’s true intentions for the Gulf region.

“We are regretful that the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tries to conceal facts about the stance of the U.S. administration through fake words,” Press TV quoted [Mottaki] as saying.

Clinton’s comments possibly stem from Washington’s new strategy of characterizing the IRGC as responsible for the domestic unrest in Iran, eager to lodge animosity between ordinary Iranian citizens and the more entitled IRGC.  Sec. Clinton’s frank approach could also be an attempt to rally more Iran-ambivalent regional allies and to gain support for a new round of more targeted sanctions directed at the IRGC, as these carefully calculated statements came just across the Persian Gulf. Regardless of the motivation, Clinton’s sharp words definitely inflamed the Iranian government.

  • 21 January 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • Human Rights in Iran

Secretary Clinton on Internet Freedom and Iran

In what was touted as a major policy speech announcing the State Department’s new Internet freedom initiative, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton today committed the US to a broad new effort to advance and protect the right of all people to access the Internet freely.

In her speech, Clinton highlighted the important role that cyber communications have played in Iran, describing online organizing as “a critical tool for advancing democracy, and enabling citizens to protest suspicious election results.”

Clinton’s comments on Iran also focused on  reports of Iranian government efforts to intimidate Iranians abroad, as well as the death of Neda Soltan:

In the demonstrations that followed Iran’s presidential elections, grainy cell phone footage of a young woman’s bloody murder provided a digital indictment of the government’s brutality. We’ve seen reports that when Iranians living overseas posted online criticism of their nation’s leaders, their family members in Iran were singled out for retribution. And despite an intense campaign of government intimidation, brave citizen journalists in Iran continue using technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening in their country. In speaking out on behalf of their own human rights the Iranian people have inspired the world.

And their courage is redefining how technology is used to spread truth and expose injustice.

Clinton framed Internet freedom as a human rights issue, noting that the right to free expression and to receive information is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Article 19 of the Declaration states that all people “have right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

  • 23 July 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2009, Uncategorized

Clinton says Iran unable to respond to overtures

From Reuters:

LONDON (Reuters) – The United States is still willing to ‘reach out’ to Iran but political turmoil there means Tehran is not now in a position to respond, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the BBC on Thursday.

President Barack Obama made diplomatic overtures to Iran before its June 12 election, but Clinton told the BBC: “We haven’t had any response.”

She added: “We’ve certainly reached out and made it clear that’s what we’d be willing to do, even now, despite our absolute condemnation of what they’ve done in the election and since, but I don’t think they have any capacity to make that kind of decision right now.”

Clinton here is right on.  Iran is currently in political paralysis–they can’t pick a cabinet, much less deal with the outside world.  We should remember this when members of the US Congress call for us to rush into negotiations to meet some September deadline.  Beginning an ambitious effort now for renewing bilateral ties with Iran will only ensure one thing: that talks will fail.  And with neocons and hawks chomping at the bit to ramp up the pressure, it’s unlikely we’ll have a second chance.

  • 22 May 2009
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • Sanctions

Clinton Against Imposing New Sanctions For Now

Cross posted from

“How we proceed with sanctions depends upon on how the engagement works,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress Wednesday.

“Until we have tested, within the time period set forth by the president, where we think this engagement is going, I am not sure that adding new unilateral sanctions is really that helpful,” Clinton told lawmakers.  She added, “At some point it might very well be.”

Congress is currently considering legislation that would expand unilateral sanctions and target companies exporting refined petroleum to Iran.  The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act has 122 cosponsors in the House and 51 in the Senate.

Clinton called sanctions a “powerful tool” but cautioned that if new sanctions are deemed necessary by the administration, a multilateral approach would likely be more effective.

“We already have a lot of sanctions on the books but the most effective ones are the ones that we have been able to persuade a lot of our partners to pursue as well,” she said.

Clinton told lawmakers that engaging Iran will make other countries like China and Russia more willing to agree to sanctions if those talks fail.

President Obama has ruled out deadlines for diplomacy but said he would like U.S.-Iran talks to show progress by the end of the year.

  • 5 December 2008
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Diplomacy, Presidential 2008 Elections

Constitution bars Hillary from serving as Secretary of State?

hillary-state1According to Article 1, Section 6 of the US Constitution, “No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time.”

That means that no member of Congress who voted to increase the salary of an appointed position can be appointed to that position.  Congress (and Senator Clinton) voted recently to increase the salary of the Secretary of State from$186,600 to $191,300.  Therefore, Hillary’s out, right?

Not necessarily…from the NYT Caucus blog:

In the past, Congress has gotten around this by passing a resolution cutting the salary for the office at stake back to what it was before the nominee’s most recent election… This became known as the “Saxbe fix,” after it was used to facilitate President Richard M. Nixon’s appointment of Senator William Saxbe of Ohio as attorney general.

So this has been dealt with before, and it probably will be again.  But it’s an interesting quandary for the new Obama cabinet to have to deal with…

Sign the Petition


7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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