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  • 13 July 2012
  • Posted By Milad Jokar
  • 4 Comments
  • discrimination, Events in Iran, Nuclear file, Sanctions

Why Iran’s Hardliners Love the iPhone and McDonalds Sanctions

Iran's Mash Donalds (Mash refers to Mashhadi or Mashtee--someone who has made the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mashhad)

If you’re an Iranian who wants to get the latest iPhone, iPad or Macbook, it may just be easier for you to purchase one in Iran than in the U.S.

Apple Store in Sa’dat Abad, Tehran

New pressures to “tighten the noose” on Iran through sanctions have indeed led to discrimination against Persian-speakers at Apple Stores.  One has to wonder how banning Iranians from having access to iPods on which they can listen to Rihanna’s latest hit (yes, Rihanna’s latest hit is available in Iran) will “change Iran’s behavior” concerning its uranium enrichment program.

But despite the sanctions and the draconian ways they’re being enforced, in Iran, iPhones are everywhere.  And the way they get to Iran, far from “squeezing the regime” actually benefits smugglers linked to the state and the IRGC (Revolutionary Guard).

To purchase the latest Apple products, Iranians just have to go to their local “Apple Store” in Iran. They can choose their items online or in person, and can definitely speak Farsi when purchasing an iPad without worrying about whether the salesperson will take their money.

Indeed, everything is available in Iran for a price. Many Iranians still walk down Africa Street, known as Jordan Street  before the revolution, in their Air Jordans, gel in their hair, while perusing DVDs of the latest Hollywood movies starring Will Smith, Matt Demon or Angelina Jolie on display by street vendors.

The Colonel in Iran serves "Kabaaby" Fried Chicken

U.S. sanctions also prohibit U.S. fast food companies from opening in Iran. It is unclear what is the logic of banning McDonalds in Iran and how denying Iranians the pleasures of true American junk food will stop Iran’s nuclear program.  And yet, while it’s always nice to enjoy a good khoreshte bamie or ghorme sabzi, Iranians can still skip rice and go to a good KFC (kabaaby Fried Chicken), Mash Donald’s (Mash refers to one who has made the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mashhad) or simply grab a coffee at Raees—featuring a mustachioed version of Starbucks mermaid—on Seoul Street in Tehran.

Because of sanctions, most of these stores are knockoffs. However, all the soft drinks, clothes,
phones and other electronic devices are authentic. These goods come into Iran through Dubai, Iraq, and the shores of the Persian Gulf, and supply the Iranian Bazaari (merchants and shop keepers) who sell these items openly in their stores.

Salamatian on society, state, and sanctions in Iran

The following is a transcription from an interview with Ahmad Salamatian on the French radio France Culture (on February 20, 2012). Mr. Salamatian, a political analyst who served in the Islamic Republic’s first government under Bani Sadr and cofounded the Committee for the Defense of Freedom and Human Rights, explains the evolution of  Iranian society and the fracture between the State and the society that led to the 2009 massive demonstrations. According to him, Iranian society suffers from the populist mismanagement of the economy, but he argues that Western sanctions reinforce the Iranian State while slowing down the internal fracture between “the societal Iran” and “the Iranian State”.

Ahmad Salamatian: Iranian Society, Power and the West

Two sides of Iran: “societal Iran” Vs. “the Iranian State”

What happened in 2009 was the revelation of a situation which has been brewing for three decades in Iran.

What we have today is an Iran split in two parts. On the one hand, there is what I call a “societal Iran”. On the other hand, there is an “Iran of power”. They are increasingly far apart and they are increasingly anachronistic to one another.

In 1979 – with regard to his mental and his imaginary– Ayatollah Khomeini was the most in-phase with the Iranian society of that time. It was among those who were familiar with Khomeini that his slogans, symbols and discourses were the most in-phase with people’s imaginary because Iran was transitioning from a rural society to an urban one. The Iranian cities were filled with villagers and other people who lived in the country. They started the process of becoming literate, of learning politics; and with such violence! With a revolution! A fundamental change of everything!

In 2009, you have a society where the city is constituted and advanced. People did not only become literate; they have made steps forward in the shaping of the individual. Iran has somewhat entered history in 1979, with acceleration toward modernity. Though this move is jerky and from time to time shut-off, there is an incontrovertible and irreversible move toward modernity.

The different transitions – demographic, geographic, urban, economic, related to family ties, and cultural – have been accumulated and we have reached the threshold of democratic and political transition.

Transitionally, 2009 was important.

  • 15 June 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions, US-Iran War

If ECI, AIPAC, and Senate hawks think it’s time to launch a war, they should say so

Yesterday, the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) released a new ad (see the J Street response, above) rejecting diplomacy and calling for an immediate “action” with regard to Iran, further adding to the list of pro-war efforts to sabotage diplomacy and limit Obama’s maneuverability at the upcoming Moscow sessions. Although they never directly call for military action, ECI’s efforts to push for war with Iran are increasingly transparent.

The ad implies that an Iran with nuclear capabilities is around the corner, completely ignoring U.S, European and Israeli intelligence reports that say Iran has not decided to build a bomb and is years away from creating a nuclear warhead. Similarly, last week the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released a memo saying, “Iran has taken advantage of the talks to advance its nuclear program.”

In a Senate letter AIPAC is sponsoring that is circulating in the Senate, Robert Menendez and Roy Blunt demand the most improbable ultimatums for Iran talks and tells President Obama to offer nothing in return, effectively killing any chance to negotiate a deal at Moscow.

However, neither ECI, AIPAC, nor Congressional hawks are directly calling for a war with Iran. A direct declaration of war would invite questions concerning the astonishing costs, the lack of achievable objectives, and why the country is being dragged into another war in the Middle East. In short, it would be political suicide. Instead, they choose the easier route of demanding Iran meet impossible red lines and blaming Iran when their demands are not met. 

As Obama has said, “If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.” They have rejected diplomacy, but are too cowardly to voice the only other option that they leave on the table- war.

Akbar Ganji: “The Worst Scenario for Iran: A Different Look”


On June 15, 2011, Akbar Ganji published an article,"The Worst Scenario for Iran: A Different Look," on BBC Persian, examining the economy of Iran and the effects of the international sanctions on it. NIAC's Ali Tayebi and Sahar Fahimi have translated this article from Ganji's original pen, Persian, to English.  

“The Worst Scenario for Iran: A Different Look”

Two factors could open a small breathing space and create opportunities for the opposition within the upcoming year; first- the dispute between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s team and the other conservatives; second- the creation of targeted subsidies and its consequences.

In mid-April, the dispute between the conservatives and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began to escalate, and, in the past few weeks, the majority of political news has been dominated by this topic. In these circumstances, less attention was paid to the economic conditions; a circumstance that is due to structural issues, creation of targeted subsidies, and economic sanctions. This article discusses the second matter and its political outcomes.

The Quest for Nuclear Immensity

Manners and methods of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, has and continues to display that he is not willing to back down from his stance. His strategy in every situation is offensive. For example, in the case of the United Nations, he advises that instead of awaiting the feedback and criticism of Western governments and civil societies of human rights violations in Iran (the passive approach), Iran should be on the offense, because Western governments are the largest actors in human rights violations of people and governments (the active approach). Or, in the case of women, instead of the West condemning and questioning us for ‘restricting’ our women, we will condemn and question the Western world, for objectifying their women.

In the past 23 years, the supreme leader’s “quest for nuclear immensity” has been activelty persued. He has been firmly against retreating on this matter, and has always commanded the active persuit of this project. He instructed Mohammad Khatami, at the end of his presidential term, to abolish the uranium enrichment suspention agreement with European nations and begin production. Thus, he is not open to compromise and agreement on this matter.

What has been the reaction of Western governmnets? They have passed a few sanctions on Iran through the United Nations. Aside from the international boycotts, the United States and the European Union have independently put more sanctions on Iran. These sanctions have been followed by political ones, the latest of which was an American sanction on June 19,2011, against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Basij paramilitary, Iran’s national police and its chief, Esmael Ahmadi Moghadam due to major human rights violations.

  • 2 June 2011
  • Posted By David Shams
  • 1 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Nuclear file, Sanctions

Are Iran hawks pushing Tehran’s narrative?

Reading Seymour Hersh’s latest piece in the New Yorker, I can’t help but get déjà vu.

Hersh reports that the recent (classified) 2011 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons program reaches the same conclusion as the 2007 NIE that Iran had a nuclear weapons program but halted it in 2003.  Despite the two conclusions, many politicians and other policymakers remain steadfast in their own public conclusions that contradict the last two NIEs.

All of this brings me back to the build-up to war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Yes, Saddam was being “cagey” about his perceived weapons program, but he had a reason.  He didn’t want the world–Iran in particular–finding out that he really didn’t have one.  So, in defying the west and giving the weapons inspectors the run around, he kept the illusion alive.   He needed the idea of a weapons program to deter his neighbor and avowed enemy.

According to Hersh’s source, a retired senior intelligence official, Iran may have had a similar calculus.  Hersh reports, that the 2011 version initially included a finding that concluded Iran ended its program in 2003 because it was aimed at Saddam and since he had been toppled it was no longer necessary. That point was ultimately removed from the final draft, because, according to Hersh’s source, there wasn’t enough hard evidence to support that conclusion.

This is in direct contrast to the conclusions drawn by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and touted in his recent speech to a joint session of Congress last week.  He says that Iran stopped its weapons program because it feared military action.

“The more Iran believes that all options are on the table, the less the chance of confrontation,” Netanyahu said before Congress.  In reality, it is precisely these types of threats that may actually provide the rationale for Iran to pursue a nuclear deterrent.

So, these two contrasting conclusions bring Iran’s intentions into question.  As a European diplomat says in Hersh’s article, “is Iran behaving in a way that would be rational if they were not developing a nuclear weapon?”  The diplomat concludes, “Their behavior only makes sense if their goal is to have the bomb.”

Is it though? The case of Saddam demonstrates that sometimes states bluff or appear cagey to achieve strategic goals other than simply hiding a weapons program.  In Iran’s case, standing up to the United States and the perception that it may have an advancing nuclear weapons program gives it prestige, presents it as a top regional power

As Seymour Hersh points out in his article, former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei discusses this very point in his recent memoir, “Tehran is determined to be recognized as a regional power….even if the intent is not to develop nuclear weapons” it “sends a signal of power to Iran’s neighbors and to the world.”

By ignoring this alternative reading of Iran’s behavior, or hyping perceived threats to advance more hawkish policies domestically, we run the risk of miscalculating Iran’s intentions or even reinforcing a narrative they seek to advance as a strategic interest unto itself.  And a policy that is based in the “popular” reading of Iran’s behavior could actually help push Iran to actually developing a nuclear weapon.  We still have time to prevent making this strategic error, but its unclear anyone in Washington has actually learned the lessons from Iraq.

  • 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?

  • 21 July 2010
  • Posted By Azadeh
  • 2 Comments
  • Nuclear file, US-Iran War

War is Bad For Democracy

Speculation abounds as, once again, the military option against Iran has come front and center. What is the worst case scenario if Israel attacks Iran? Most experts agree; there will be a significant toll on civilian life, Iran could justifiably withdraw from the NPT, and there could be prolonged regional insecurity that drags the US into a third Middle Eastern conflict.

Perhaps the most important consequence of an attack on Iran, however, is the damage it would do to the indigenous democracy movement.

Plain and simple, an Israeli attack would destroy the Green movement.  History shows that external threats have only served to buttress repressive regimes. In the case of Iran in the 1980’s, the revolutionary government used the Iran-Iraq War as a pretext to silence dissenters and consolidate its hold on power.  Without the specter of a foreign enemy, it’s unlikely the post-revolutionary regime would have remained in tact.

The Green Movement’s current efforts to protect civil liberties, combat repression, liberalize domestic politics, and improve Iran’s standing in the international community will certainly be cut off if Iran is thrust into similar circumstances. After the bombs start falling, the hardline government will ensure that only the issue of national security is allowed to dominate the domestic political discourse.  (This should be easy for Americans to imagine, given that the US experienced a similar situation in the aftermath of 9/11).

Iran war hawks like William Kristol Robert Kagan talk about how a nuclear-armed Iran would be tolerable so long as it is run by a secular, pro-American and democratic government.  Since last June, the Iranian people have begun the long slog toward freedom and democracy, and yet those who claim to support them are calling for precisely the thing that will make this dream impossible.

There is still unrest in Iran. Bazaar strikes, an ailing economy, and widespread inflation are just a few problems plaguing the lives of Iranians every day, and as this discontent lingers, the calls for reform will only grow louder.  Even more than its immediate devastation on the lives of the Iranian people, an attack on Iran will constrain Iran’s political evolution and defer the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.

Barbara Slavin often says that the US and Iran never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  The US now has a chance to keep the hope for a democratic Iran alive or, alternatively, to snuff out that possibility in one fell swoop.  We should choose wisely.

  • 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.

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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