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  • 15 September 2011
  • Posted By Sina Kashefipour
  • 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.

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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