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“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.

  • 19 November 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 10 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Neo-Con Agenda, Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Washington Post Blasts Defense Secretary Gates, Endorses Netanyahu’s War Rhetoric

The Washington Post Editorial board has called out US Defense Secretary Robert Gates for “undercutting the message” that the US may attack Iran.  The Post criticizes the Defense Secretary for defending the Administration’s Iran policy against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pressure for the US to publicly threaten Iran with military force.

Netanyahu advised that “If the international community, led by the U.S., wants to stop Iran without resorting to military action, it will have to convince Iran that it is prepared to take such action.”  This Orwellian “war is peace” calculation would only endanger US national security and drive the US closer to war with Iran.  The Defense Secretary who is responsible for the lives of American troops was right to stand firm in the face of Netanyahu’s callous, pernicious war rhetoric.

The Washington Post calls Secretary Gate’s assessment that military strikes would bring together a divided Iranian nation “speculative”.  But the Post asserts that “what we do know for sure” is that Iran curbed its nuclear program in 2003 as a result of the US invasion of Iraq.  We absolutely do not know this for sure.  The Washington Post Editorial board that helped champion the Iraq war on the basis of false intelligence should be more careful when passing off its own speculation as certainty, particularly when it comes to advancing another case for war.

The Post pits its own speculation against the assessments of not just the Defense Secretary, but also those of military leaders like General David Petraeus – who warned that an attack on Iran could be used by hardliners to galvanize support – and Iranian human rights and democracy advocates, such as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, who said an attack “would give the government an excuse to kill all of its political opponents,” and that the Iranian people would resist any military action.

But if the judgment of US civilian and military leadership and Iranian activists is not enough for the Washington Post, there are plenty more reasons why saber rattling is disastrous idea.  Threats of war only help validate arguments that Iran requires a nuclear weapon as a suitable deterrent against US force.  As the US Institute of Peace and the Stimson Center recently stated in its report on engagement with Iran, “Even veiled allusions to the ‘military option’ reinforce those Iranian hardliners who argue that Iran requires nuclear weapons to deter the US, and protect Tehran’s security and freedom of action.”  The report also finds that “Official references to ‘military options’ only undermine those in Tehran who might otherwise argue for negotiated solutions to the nuclear issue.”

Furthermore, threats of military force will help unravel all of the work President Obama has invested in successfully undoing the damage of the Bush Administration and uniting the world in its Iran approach.  Our close allies have expressed serious concern about potential US saber rattling, and pursuing such a track will also alienate Russia and China, who are integral in multilateral efforts regarding Iran.

The call for saber rattling against Iran harkens back to the failed George W. Bush era in which the US looked on defiantly as Iran mastered the nuclear fuel cycle, while the US talked tough, spewed war rhetoric, and emboldened those in Iran who thrive on confrontation.  These threats undercut opportunities for peaceful, diplomatic resolutions to the US-Iran dispute by injecting significant uncertainty about US intentions on the Iranian side.  Preventing successful engagement may very well be the intended goal of those who advise that the US threaten war, as this is likewise the probable motivation of hardliners in Iran who offer similar rhetoric.  The Washington Post should not be in the business of empowering those on either side who seek to undermine engagement and eliminate options for the US to resolve its concerns with Iran through peaceful means.  With the prospect of yet third disastrous US war in the Middle East, the stakes could not be higher.

  • 19 October 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Sanctions

Obama Shifts, Iranians Seethe

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the Obama Administration is using sanctions to prevent Iranian civilian flights from refueling in Europe—flights that serve as “the main lifeline for Iranians with the outside world.”

This draconian step is particularly troubling since it is coming from an Administration that claimed to understand that isolating the Iranian people could “risk alienating parts of the population with which the West seeks to establish common cause”, and from a President who committed to “a more hopeful future for the Iranian people” through increased student exchanges.

But the Post explains how the Administration is working to divert and ground Iran Air flights by pressing oil companies in Europe not to refuel civilian flights.  This is a deliberate effort, according to one source in contact with the Administration, who asserts, “Be sure, the Obama administration is fully aware of the situation Iran Air is in.”

Thomas Erdbrink writes:

[The new sanctions effort] illustrates a shift away from an earlier U.S. policy of reaching out to the Iranian people and trying to target mostly state organizations central to Iran’s nuclear program. Officials now admit that the increased pressure is hurting ordinary Iranians but say they should blame their leaders for the Islamic republic’s increasing isolation.

But Erdbrink quotes a passenger on a diverted flight who takes exception:

“What do we have to do with our government?” an Iranian man asked loudly, after discovering to his surprise that the plane had landed on the Vienna tarmac. “We are becoming prisoners because of these disagreements between Iran and America.”

  • 19 February 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 8 Comments
  • 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

  • 28 November 2009
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • 3 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Human Rights in Iran, Sanctions

What’s Next?

The Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was recently released from Evin Prison, has an excellent op-ed in today’s Washington Post. In it, Bahari argues two main points: 1) The U.S. must still pursue diplomacy with Iran and 2) Smart sanctions (targeted ones that don’t affect the Iranian people) are the appropriate sanctions to impose.

Our regular readers already know this, but it is worth repeating that this is exactly the position we take here at NIAC. NIAC supports diplomacy with Iran, but NIAC has also been investigating how smart sanctions, which target Iran’s leaders rather than the general population, can be used effectively. (See our membership survey.) Stay tuned for more on this…

In the meantime, everyone should read Bahari’s op-ed in the Washington Post. Also, if you haven’t already seen it, the incredible story of his imprisonment in Newsweek is a must read

The Green Movement Keeps Neda’s Memory Alive

The Green Movement and its supporters are determined to keep Neda Agha-Soltan’s memory alive as a symbol of the ongoing struggle against the current Iranian government.

A Facebook page, “Neda Agha-Soltan for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year” has gained 454 members so far and encourages viewers to write Time Magazine at letters@time.com to build support for Neda to be recognized for her sacrificing her life while demonstrating against the government, and for the wider movement she has come to represent. Further support for Neda as Time’s person of the year has been  expressed by readers of Iranian.com.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, U.S. President Barack Obama made reference to Neda in offering to share his prize with others taking up causes for peace around the world :

…this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity–for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets…”

The Washington Post Editorial Board even weighed in, declaring Neda their preference for the Peace Prize.

Additionally, the Queen’s College at Oxford University in Britain have decided to establish a graduate scholarship in Neda’s honor–the “Neda Agha-Soltan Graduate Scholarship” for philosophy students of Iranian descent. The scholarship will promote academic freedom for Iranians who have faced censorship and persecution by an oppressive government.

Tonight, PBS will air A Death in Tehran at 9 pm ET in which “frontline investigates the controversial Iranian election and the death of one young protester seen around the world,” detailing the extent of the Iranian government’s violent post-election crackdown and the persistence of its opposition. Such recognition for the young woman whose life was taken violently before the eyes of the world help to keep Neda Agha-Soltan from “being just another casualty of oppression.”

“The foreign policy apparatus in Iran has frozen”

“‘The foreign policy apparatus in Iran has frozen,” IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei has told the New York Times. ElBaradei’s comments come in light of Iran’s apparent unwillingness or even inability to accept the deal that their own diplomats negotiated with the P5+1 and the IAEA.

While the talks were successful in getting the IAEA access to Iran’s nuclear facility under construction in Qom, Iran’s government rejected the deal (verbally) on the grounds that they were not willing to trust Russia or France with the majority of their low-enriched uranium stockpile.

ElBaradei came up with a clever response, which was to find a third party country that both sides could trust that would hold the uranium – with Turkey appearing to be the most likely candidate.

However, instead of responding favorably to this deal, Iran simply responded with their own counter-proposal. It certainly plays into the narrative presented by CFR Iran expert Ray Takeyh on Friday:

In the coming months, Iran will no doubt seek to prolong negotiations by accepting and then rejecting agreed-upon compacts and offering countless counter-proposals. The United States and its allies must decide how to approach an Iranian diplomatic stratagem born out of cynical desire to clamp down on peaceful dissent with relative impunity.

International scrutiny remains trained on Iran’s nuclear program, but outside that glare, the structure and orientation of the Revolutionary Guards are changing dramatically. The regime in Tehran is establishing the infrastructure for repression. The leadership of the Guards and the paramilitary Basij force have been integrated and are much more focused on vanquishing imaginary plots by a (nonexistent) fifth column.

Takeyh then argues — as we have been — that human rights should should be elevated in the talks with Iran. Takeyh then takes it a step further:

Western officials would be smart to disabuse Iran of the notion that its nuclear infractions are the only source of disagreement. Iran’s hard-liners need to know that should they launch their much-advertised crackdown, the price for such conduct may be termination of any dialogue with the West.

Radio Free Liberty also talked to a number of reformists who argue any deal that ignores human rights will be fundamentally flawed and likely viewed with suspicion.

Reformist journalist Serajedin Mirdamadi, who campaigned for opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi ahead of the contentious June election, tells Radio Farda that a deal with Tehran that is solely focused on the nuclear issue will not be a lasting one.

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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