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  • 13 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • Israel, Nuclear file, UN

The Radioactive Elephant in the Room (UPDATED)

With the NPT review conference in New York and the international community increasingly focusing on Iran’s nuclear program, a variety of media sources have picked up on what other countries in the Middle East have been saying for decades.

“Israel’s nuclear arsenal stands like the radioactive elephant in the room,” blogger and journalist Khaled Diab told the BBC.

Israel today is widely believed to have between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads, but it has never declared them, signed on to the NPT, or opened its nuclear facilities to inspection. In turn, the United States has for the past 40 years looked the other way, pursuing a public policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity has been a major point of contention for many nations throughout the Middle East, including Iran. With the US and the international community directing their attention to the potential nuclear proliferation risk posed by Iran, Arab and Islamic states have increasingly raised their voices on the potential threat of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

In connection with President Obama’s ambitious nuclear nonproliferation agenda, there has been renewed interest in the 1995 proposal of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Egypt has recently circulated a proposal to the NPT’s 189 signatories calling for a conference by 2011 with the participation of all Middle Eastern countries on ridding the entire region of nuclear weapons.

Israel’s nuclear arsenal is of course a sticky aspect that would have to be resolved in order to achieve this vision. For the first time, though, Israel’s nuclear arsenal is set to undergo review by the IAEA after having been voted onto its provisional agenda for the June 7 board meeting with the support of many Arab and Islamic states.

The response made by Israel as well as the US is that realistically there must first be peace with Israel’s neighbors and in the Middle East. At a time when Iran calls for the destruction of Israel, it makes sense that Israel views a peace agreement as a precondition for any discussions on its nuclear arsenal.

Last Wednesday, U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher told an audience of delegates and reporters that it was hard to imagine negotiating “any kind of free zone in the absence of a comprehensive peace plan that is running on a parallel track.”

Of course the question of whether peace in the Middle East is actually possible is an entirely different debate. What is interesting to note, however, is the interdependence between Iran and Israel on the possibility of disarmament in the region.

While it is obvious that Israel will not disarm with the threat of a nuclear Iran and calls for its destruction, the other side of the equation should not be wholly ignored.

Progress toward a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East would directly coincide with progress toward ensuring Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon itself.  In this respect, Israel has a huge role to play — and can actually be its own best friend in stemming the possibility of an Iranian bomb.

This of course is not to discount the very valid point that Israel has. Israel has no obligations to get rid of its nuclear program as it is not a member of the NPT and with calls for its destruction by its neighbors, among them Iran, a nuclear weapons program is likely seen as vital to its national security. Nonetheless, the international community, and Israel among them, should not overlook the role that the sole nuclear arsenal in the region plays in Iran’s calculations. One of Iran’s biggest motivations for possibly developing nuclear weapons is a military threat from Israel. Israel happens to have nuclear weapons. It’s as simple as that.

Update: For evidence of this theory being put in practice (albeit with Russia, rather than Israel), check out what Rose Gottemoeller said about the positive externalities of the new START Treaty on pressuring Iran.

While there is no “direct” link between the [arms reduction] treaty and the sanctions debate on Iran, Gottemoeller said that the boost in the US-Russian relationship helps other efforts in which the two countries are involved…

“Therefore there will be beneficial influence on issues of mutual concern. Certainly Iran is one of them.”

Thanks to our friends at Nukes of Hazard for catching this.

  • 4 February 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • US-Iran War

Deja Vu All Over Again

On the heels of last week’s testimony by Tony Blair before Britain’s Chilcot panel regarding the Iraq war, Seumas Milne discusses in the Guardian yesterday the parallels between the 2002 run up to war with Iraq and the current escalation in rhetoric and military forces aimed at Iran .

In his column, “The lessons of Iraq have been ignored. The target is now Iran”, Milne writes, “We were ­supposed to have learned the lessons of the Iraq war. That’s what Britain’s ­Chilcot inquiry is meant to be all about. But the signs from the Middle East are that it could be happening all over again.”

He goes on to compare the current Iran rhetoric and George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, and analyzes the recent US announcement that it is “boosting its naval presence and supplying tens of billions of dollars’ worth of new weapons systems to allied Arab states.  The target is of course Iran.”

“In case anyone missed the parallels, Tony Blair hammered them home at the Iraq inquiry last Friday.” Milne writes, “Far from showing remorse about the bloodshed he helped unleash on the Iraqi people, the former prime minister was allowed to turn what was supposed to be a grilling into a platform for war against Iran. “

Tony Blair isn’t the only one who has apparently learned little from the lessons of Iraq.  In Daniel Pipes’ February 2 piece in the National Review, “How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran”, Pipes offers the Obama Administration some free political advice: “He needs a dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him,” Pipes writes.  The answer to Obama’s political difficulties?  Bomb Iran.

Pipes states that such an attack would be “more politically palatable” because it would be limited to aerial strikes and thus “would require few ‘boots on the ground’ and entail relatively few casualties”.  No mention, however, of the Pentagon’s broadly accepted assessment that such strikes would not eliminate Iran’s nuclear program and would play into the hands of Iran’s government as it attempts to fight a growing popular uprising.

Like any good political strategist, instead of making the case that starting a war with Iran is good policy, Pipes argues that its good politics—he even supports his argument with polling data.  The cynicism in Pipes’ argument is underlined when he compares his proposed new war with Iran to 9/11, noting that the most deadly terrorist attacks on US soil were a political boon that “caused voters to forget George W. Bush’s meandering early months”—just think what bombing Iran could do for President Obama’s poll numbers.

“If Obama’s personality, identity, and celebrity captivated a majority of the American electorate in 2008, those qualities proved ruefully deficient for governing in 2009.”  So in Pipes’ world, “bomb, bomb Iran” is new “Yes we can”.

  • 23 December 2009
  • Posted By Bardia Mehrabian
  • Culture, Diplomacy

The Deep South Thanks the Iranian People

The Deep South has found a partner to resolve its healthcare woes: Iran.

A recent Times Online article has discovered how local health officials, consultants, and doctors working in the Mississippi Delta region have partnered with Iranian health officials and strategists to address their financial woes and lacking healthcare system.

The grim reality facing local Delta residents include:

Some of the worst health statistics in the country, including infant mortality rates for non-whites at Third World levels…The southern state has the highest levels of child obesity, hypertension and teenage pregnancy in the US. More than 20% of its people have no health insurance.

James Miller – a consultant based in Mississippi brought in to advise a hospital facing financial difficulty – was shocked when he found out Mississippi had, “the third highest medical expenditure per capita, but came last in terms of outcome.”

When mapping out a strategy to turn around the state’s appalling results, Miller recalled a European health conference where Iranian health officials presented their revolutionary healthcare policy :

Facing shortages of money and trained doctors at the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, the new government launched a system based on community ‘health houses’, each serving about 1,500 people.

Locals were trained as health workers known as behvarz, who would travel their area, dispensing advice about healthy eating, sanitation and contraception as well as monitoring blood pressure and conditions such as diabetes.

It was a stunning success, reducing child mortality rates by 69% and maternal mortality in rural areas from 300 per 100,000 births to 30. There are now 17,000 health houses in Iran, covering more than 90% of its rural population of 23m.

Miller, and a number of other healthcare advocates, embarked on a campaign to incorporate the Iranian “health houses” strategy into the Mississippi system by partnering with Iranian universities and health officials and winning over local residents. While the campaign to incorporate the system may be an uphill battle, its success can have far-reaching implications:

‘The Iranians are a proud people with 5,000 years of history and huge contributions to science and medicine,’ said a State Department official.

‘A project like the Mississippi one is incredibly powerful as it appeals to that Iranian concept of history. It’s a great way to keep the door open between the two countries.’

Paula Gutlove – deputy director of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies – points out similar meetings between American and Soviet scientists in the 1980s helped pave the way for the end of the cold war. “What we did in the 1980s created lasting relationships which cut across the divide,” she said.

‘It’s a win-win project,’ said Dr. Aaron Shirley, a leading health campaigner. ‘Not only do we finally have a way of addressing disparities in Mississippi, but also building relations between peoples.’”

  • 4 December 2009
  • Posted By NIAC
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

IRPSA Hurts Iranian People, Undermines International Unity on Iran

NIAC released the following statement today in response to yesterday’s news that the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (HR 2194) will be brought up for a floor vote on the suspension calendar within the next two weeks.

The National Iranian American Council is deeply concerned that the House of Representatives’ plan to bring H.R. 2194, the Iranian Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA), to a vote the week of December 14, 2009 is a move in the direction of punishing the Iranian people instead of the Iranian government.

NIAC supports the Obama Administration’s ongoing engagement efforts and, though the Iranian government’s response has thus far been frustrating, the US must remain committed to working in concert with its international partners.  Considering unilateral sanctions at this time threatens to preempt and undermine the President’s multilateral efforts.

A successful strategy for dealing with Iran must have diplomatic engagement as its basis.  Sanctions can play a constructive role within that process, but in order to be effective they must target the Iranian government and the individuals responsible for the government’s reprehensible behavior, with a special emphasis on those guilty of human rights violations.

  • 2 December 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Sanctions, Uncategorized

California to Divest Iran Investments

The Associated Press is reporting that insurance companies that do business in California are being asked to withdraw any of their finances currently invested in Iran. A probe conducted by California’s Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has revealed that insurance companies in the state have $12 billion invested in Iran.

Poizner has said that he is currently asking insurance companies to voluntarily divest their funds from the Islamic Republic; however, if companies do not heed his request within 120 days, then Poizner will seek a court order requiring divestment.

According the report, Poizner is looking for support from insurance commissioners in other states. Insurance companies have argued against a piecemeal approach to divestment, and suggest that such an approach will disrupt the foreign policy plans of the federal government. However, it appears that a state-by-state divestment may be already underway, since,

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, said he is consulting other states’ commissioners to see if it is practical to develop a national effort similar to California’s.

“We ought to do it through the states, but in a coordinated fashion,” said Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario, who also is considering a divestment push.

The probe conducted by Poizner did not discover direct investments in Iran’s financial sector by any of the insurance companies, and the $12 billion in investments are through indirect means.

  • 30 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran

IRGC Given Expanded Naval Command

The Agence France Presse reports that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been given command over “naval operations” in Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. A study conducted by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence concluded that,

the military reorganization launched in 2007 transfers responsibility for the Gulf from the regular navy to the elite Guards’ naval force, which has an arsenal of small, high-speed boats and cruise missiles.

The Islamic Republic’s regular naval forces are now responsible for the Gulf of Oman and the Caspian Sea regions.

This change in the operational theater of the IRGC navy is likely designed to allow Iran to effectively shut down shipping through the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf; something that the Iranian government has threatened in the past. Of course, as the Agence France Presse article points out, shutting down either sea lanes would have a massive deleterious effect on Iran’s economy in addition to damaging the economies of Europe and the United States.


On November 25, the Iranian Navy has detained five British nationals who accidentally sailed into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. The Britons were sailing a yacht, possibly named the Kingdom of Bahrain, on their way to Bahrain for a Dubai-Muscat race.

The five sailors are reported to be in good health and are being well treated.

  • 27 November 2009
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • Nuclear file, UN

IAEA Votes to Censure Iran

From Reuters:

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors voted 25-3 to censure Iran in a motion that gained rare backing from Russia and China, which have in the past blocked attempts to isolate Iran, a trade partner for both.

The U.S. envoy to the IAEA, Ambassador Glynn Davies, said in Vienna on Friday that international patience with Iran was running out and that “round after round” of fruitless talks could not continue.

Speaking to reporters in Washington later, the U.S. official said the vote showed “unity of purpose” among major international powers on Iran, and repeated that time was growing short for Tehran to come clean about a nuclear program that Western governments fear is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge.”

The Washington Post reported Thursday on US efforts to secure China’s backing for the IAEA resolution:

Two weeks before President Obama visited China, two senior White House officials traveled to Beijing on a “special mission” to try to persuade China to pressure Iran to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program.

If Beijing did not help the United States on this issue, the consequences could be severe, the visitors, Dennis Ross and Jeffrey Bader, both senior officials in the National Security Council, informed the Chinese.

The Chinese were told that Israel regards Iran’s nuclear program as an “existential issue and that countries that have an existential issue don’t listen to other countries,” according to a senior administration official. The implication was clear: Israel could bomb Iran, leading to a crisis in the Persian Gulf region and almost inevitably problems over the very oil China needs to fuel its economic juggernaut, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Earlier this week, the White House got its answer. China informed the United States that it would support a toughly worded, U.S.-backed statement criticizing the Islamic republic for flouting U.N. resolutions by constructing a secret uranium-enrichment plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors voted 25-3 to censure Iran in a motion that gained rare backing from Russia and China, which have in the past blocked attempts to isolate Iran, a trade partner for both.

The U.S. envoy to the IAEA, Ambassador Glynn Davies, said in Vienna on Friday that international patience with Iran was running out and that “round after round” of fruitless talks could not continue.

Speaking to reporters in Washington later, the U.S. official said the vote showed “unity of purpose” among major international powers on Iran, and repeated that time was growing short for Tehran to come clean about a nuclear program that Western governments fear is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge.

  • 12 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Culture

A History of Exchange

As I meandered through the Falnama: The Book of Omens exhibit at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, I was reminded once again of the shared history between Europe and Iran, the East and the West or the Occident and the Orient. However and wherever the dividing lines are drawn, they obscure a history that is far richer in cultural and intellectual exchange than is often recognized or acknowledged. Among the paintings depicting events that are specifically Persian in heritage, there were ornate paintings of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and, my personal favorite, Hippocrates riding the Simorgh.

The Simorgh is a creature of Persian mythology that symbolized, among other things, nearness to the Divine and wisdom. The image is evocative of the Simorgh carrying Zal to its nest. In Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh the Simorgh imparted some of its wisdom to Zal, including showing Zal how to perform a cesarean. What a perfect image then, the Simorgh carrying Hippocrates who is lauded as the progenitor of modern medicine.

The picture reminded me of a point made at a colloquium on Islamo-Christian civilization I attended some years ago. The speaker said that if you compared the total time that consisted of peaceful intercultural exchange between the East and the West is compared to the total time that was consumed by hostilities, the relationship is overwhelmingly defined by peaceful exchange and not by mutual hatred and mistrust.

Unfortunately, the media and academia are nearly always focused on the instances when communication has broken down. This presents a skewed view of history that sees current conflicts and tensions as the result of historical events, as simply the nature of things. For example, this attitude can be found in works such as Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.   

The truth of the matter is that internal conflicts, i.e. Christian vs. Christian or Iranian vs. Iranian etc., has been a far more regular occurrence than us-versus-them style conflicts. One great example is that at the height of its power Venice built forts along the Mediterranean coast ostensibly for defense against the Ottoman Empire. In reality, however, Venice had a fantastic trade relationship with the Ottomans, and was building the forts as a defensive line against the Holy Roman Empire. In fact, Venice often continued trading with the Ottomans, albeit surreptitiously, when other European countries had declared general war on the Turks.

I do not mean to portray an idealized past of perfect cooperation, but, instead, to point out the fact that there has been an enormous degree of cultural exchange between the East and the West. Cultures do not exist in individual bubbles isolated from the rest of the world. They are syncretic. They are the products of a continuous process of the borrowing and exchange ideas and beliefs.    

We would do well to think of the current tensions between Iran and the United States, or between the Muslim world and the West, as an interruption in a long tradition of exchange, and not as a continuation of historical practice. The blame for this break with tradition cannot be assigned to any one group. We are all responsible, and we should all work towards re-forging avenues of intellectual and cultural exchange.

  • 10 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file

Deal or No Deal, Talks Must Continue

The rigmarole surrounding the supposed failure of negotiations with Iran is causing the media and government to lose sight of what is really important: talking with Iran. Talking is, in and of itself, a confidence building measure. It allows for the growth of familiarity between the parties, and, therefore, greater confidence that the other side will honor any agreements. At this early stage, negotiations with Iran should be viewed as means to that end.

Negotiation is the ongoing process of discussion. A failure of negotiations, as they currently exist with Iran, would only really happen when the talking stops.  What is currently happening between the U.S. and Iran is a failure to compromise–it’s frustrating, seems like a deadlock, and feels like we’re banging our head against a brick wall.  But it’s not a failure. Further rounds of talks will beget further confidence from both sides, and toward that end even the stalemate over the Vienna proposal is not necessarily a cause for alarm.

The possibility of Iran gaining nuclear weapons in the future must be dealt with in a serious matter. But there is time before Iran will be able to construct a working nuclear weapon.

  • 9 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran

(Updated) Espionage Charges for American Hikers?

Reuters is reporting that the three Americans who crossed into Iran while hiking in Iraq are being charged with espionage.

“The three are charged with espionage. Investigations continue into the three detained Americans in Iran,” Tehran general prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said.

The three were held after they strayed into Iran from northern Iraq at the end of July.

The three, Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, crossed into Iranian territory nearly two months ago. Their families say they strayed across the border accidentally.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested in an interview with the American television network NBC in September that the Americans’ release might be linked to the release of Iranian diplomats he said were being held by U.S. troops in Iraq.

Under Iran’s Islamic sharia law, espionage is punishable by death.”

Important update (h/t Sanaz): According to IRNA, the hikers are “accused” of espionage, not charged. Tehran’s prosecutor said “investigations about these three people continue and an opinion will be issued soon…”

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.



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