Arabian Gulf?

Fueling ethnic tensions in the Persian Gulf is not a strategy for Middle East stability


Arabian Gulf?
by jamal.abdi

Washington risks entering into a game of escalating provocations with Tehran even as continuing efforts to restart talks in November are underway. Iran's announcement that the two US hikers being held Evin prison will now face trial just ahead of the talks is no coincidence. The move is particularly shameful considering that these US citizens have been held for over a year without formal charges and recently leaked military reports support the hiker's assertion that they were captured in Iraq - not in Iran. Meanwhile, last week's announcement of the largest US arms deal in history, a $60 billion deal with Saudi Arabia that includes advanced aircraft and bunker busting bombs, was clearly aimed at Tehran.

But while the package was branded as an effort to "enhance regional stability" by reassuring Persian Gulf states of the United States' commitment to their security, the State Department broke its own longstanding protocol and used provocative, ethnically divisive language when announcing the deal.

Instead of using the historically accepted term - and observing State Department protocol - "Persian Gulf", Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro referred to the "Arabian Gulf", a politically charged phrase with a relatively recent but insidious history.

While it may sound like a mere matter of semantics to some (though one could predict the diplomatic uproar if the US began referring to the "Gulf of America" along its Southern coast), in a region marred by ethnic tensions, usage of "Arabian Gulf" is a serious signal that could portend a dangerous, counterproductive path for the US ahead.

The term "Arabian Gulf" first appeared fifty years ago as Pan-Arabism propaganda aimed at unifying Arabs against Iranians, Israelis, and other non-Arabs in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein later co-opted the term to exploit ethnic rivalries in support of his regional claims and territorial ambitions, including his invasion of Iran and his campaigns against Iraqi Kurds. Later, Osama Bin Laden adopted the term in an attempt to stir ethnic rivalries to bolster his appeal among Arab populations.

The State Department's sudden use of "Arabian Gulf" can only stoke tensions in the region. The move could foreshadow deterioration back to the mutual demonization that characterized much of the previous Administration's Iran approach. President Obama successfully reigned in much of that counterproductive rhetoric and, while there has been little reciprocation from Tehran, managed to earn back significant credibility necessary for US leadership on the global stage. But by flying in the face of protocol and using the term "Arabian Gulf", the State Department risks backsliding to a posture in which the US once again bargains away its moral authority in exchange for caustic, emotionally satisfying insults.

Such an ethnically divisive term sends the wrong message, particularly coming just weeks ahead of planned talks with Iran. Successful engagement will be difficult enough without the US drawn into a toxic tit for tat with the Iranian government. Just as the US rightfully criticizes Tehran's bombastic rhetoric--including Ahmadinejad's deliberately insensitive remarks about 9/11 last month in New York--Washington must not be tempted to take that bait and engage in a duel of counterproductive provocations.

Ethnically divisive rhetoric, in addition to posing new diplomatic hurdles, may also signal a dangerous new strategy. Some analysts have urged that the US should fuel ethnic rivalries in the Middle East in hope that this will pressure and contain Iran while bolstering US security interests. But the history of the Middle East is one in which such tensions have only brought conflict and increased instability. Washington's flirtation with a strategy to exacerbate ethnic divisions will fuel accusations that the US is engaged in efforts to fund ethnic separatist groups in Iran and around region. Already, Tehran accuses the Al Qaeda-linked Baluch organization Jundallah, which has carried out numerous terrorist attacks in Iran, of receiving funding and guidance from the US.

It is not yet clear if the Assistant Secretary's statement was a misnomer or if this is was a calculated policy decision by the State Department. But we do know that the Middle East is wrought with destabilizing fault lines based on ethnic and religious tensions. The last thing that the US should do is exacerbate those tensions in a shortsighted bid to pressure Iran. A reversion to Bush-era mudslinging and saber rattling can only diminish the cachet the Obama Administration has managed to restore through its more sober public rhetoric towards Iran. Succumbing to the level of trading barbs with Ahmadinejad will not boost confidence in US leadership. Secretary Clinton or the President himself must reign in this rhetoric at the State Department immediately and ensure that this is not part of a broader policy decision that can only increase instability and help ensure diplomatic failure.

First published in

Tell Secretary Clinton: Referring to Persian Gulf as "Arabian Gulf" Only Fuels Ethnic Tensions

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Signed and thanks for the efforts

by Bavafa on



Agreed, Liberty

by Simorgh5555 on

Obama and his administration speak with a forked tongue in relation to Iran. They only provide lip serice to the issue of human rights but Iranians are weary of the tired empty gestures of sympathy which are not followed by any action. If Obama enters into any agreement to recognise the Islamic Republic then he will go down in the pantheon of worst leaders the world has ever come to know. Nothing short of regime change will do. If Obama wants to shy away from any strategic military action against the terrorist occupiers then he must allow for the funding of a liberation army or a democratic opposition movement to liberate Iran.


I would add, Simorgh5555,...

by LoverOfLiberty on

I would add, Simorgh5555, that any future "Grand Bargain," so to speak, between the US and the current Iranian regime will likely have the unfortunate side-effect of legitimizing on the world stage that same Iranian regime.

And, I think that sort of outcome will not really be in the interest of any Iranians who feel as if the Iranian regime does not represent the people of Iran.

I say, if there is going to be any form of Cold War between the US and the Iranian regime, as apposed to a military conflict, then let it be a no-holds-barred cold war with well-defined red lines that the Iranian regime cannot be allowed to cross and one in which certain liberties-such as freedom of speech, religion, of assembly-of ordinary Iranians are pushed for, in a political sense, by the US government.

In short, I think the US must get off of the fence she has been straddling with the false hope that some sort of grand bargain can be accomplished at the expense, at least in my mind, of the wishes of Iranians who feel as if the Iranian regime does not represent them.


Clinton sucks and the whole

by Simorgh5555 on

Clinton sucks and the whole Obama administration are appeasers of the Islamic Republic. First they refuse to confront the Mullah regime robustly and then dishonour Iran this way.

However, let's not forget Ahamdinejad's ridiciulous and shameful comments concerning the World Trade Centre bombings which were also hurtful to Americans. 

By eliminating Ahmadinejad we would be serving the interest of both Iran and the USA. 


Contact State Department


I wrote them a letter and gave them a history of the Persian gulf.  That it has been named by Darius the great since the 5th Century, on through Sassanian and Islamic Caliphs who ruled Iran.  All called it the Persian Gulf.  If US is having problem with the Islamic Republic, should not take on Iran, and Iranian people.  They should not engage on petty matters like this to appease the Arab countries or punish the Islamic Republic.  These kind of petty actions will have a negetive effect in Middle East.  They shoulld think long term.  Islamic Republic is not going to be there for ever, but the Iran and Iranians will.  I Suggest our friends contact the State Department://    Click on email   or search: U.S. Department of State 



I dare to ask

by comrade on

What is in a name?

Never increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.



signed. Thanks.

by MM on