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Korean Unification Flag?

Korean Unification Flag

Most people are familiar with the fact that the Korean peninsula and Korean people have been separated for over half a century. Following the Second World War, the nation was divided along the 38th parallel and each nation developed along different routes. The Northerners embraced Communism and followed the Juche ideal, while their southern neighbors became an outpost of the capitalist system on the Asian mainland.

Yet while disagreements remain, it appears that both nations have an earnest desire for reconciliation and cultural diplomacy has been a useful vehicle in promoting unification.

The recent trend for North Korea and South Korea to compete together as one nation in global sports events is certainly a positive development. The two nations started competing together in 1991 at the World Table Tennis Championship in Japan in and the World Football Championships in Lisbon. While the two nations did not compete together in the Beijing Olympics, they did march together under one flag in Sydney 2000, Athens in 2004, Turin 2006 and the Doha Games in 2006.

Anyone familiar with tensions between North and South Korea will agree this represents a breakthrough in relations. Yet, this begs a question; what flag do they march under?
The answer is simple. They march under the Korean Unification Flag.

This flag was first used in 1991 during the table tennis championships in Japan and was designed specially for this event. This flag not only represent each nation’s desires for unification, but is in itself a monument to the cooperation which made it possible.

Yet, unfortunately all is not well in the flag department.

Recently a disagreement has erupted between the North and South over the use of the flag and national anthems in and an impending preliminary match in Pyongyang in March of 2010. It seems that North Korea would like the unification flag to fly and a neutral Korean anthem to be played at the start of the match. However, Federation International Football Association (FIFA) regulations stipulate that during FIFA games, each nation’s individual flag must be flown.
North Korea argues that this violates the spirit of the June 15th Joint Declaration the two nations share. The FIFA governing body has been called in to moderate the disagreement.

Yet, there are other issues. The flag, which consists of a blue silhouette of the Korean peninsula on a white background, now includes the Liancourt Rocks a territory who ownership is disputed with Japan.


May 19, 2010 Posted by | Background Info, Politics | 2 Comments

Fayetteville and Soc Trang United?

Fayetteville and Soc Trang United?

Monday, April 26, 2010 at 12:49pm

Fayetteville, North Carolina is a true-blue military town. Fort Bragg, one of the US’s largest military installations, is in Fayetteville and some of the US’s most famous units, the 82 Airborne and US Special Forces call Fayetteville, home.

The city also has a special connection to the Vietnam War. As many as 200,000 US soldiers destined for the jungles of Vietnam passed through here in the 1970s earning the town the nickname, “Fayettenam”.

No doubt, military pride and tradition run deep there, so when Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne proposed re-establishing ties with Soc Trang, a Vietnamese city, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Many in this military town still suffer from the wounds of the bitter Vietnam War and oppose the union with a nation where some 60,000 US service members lost their lives. Local Fayetteville message boards provide some insight. Don Talbot, a retired Green Beret and Vietnam veteran, feels the move “puts salt in the wounds of the Vietnam military that fought there.” One Vietnam veteran known only as 20596323 still bears scars saying, “Fayetteville should be ashamed of its self for even suggesting such a thing!” Razorback Pilot wrote “That country is solely communist and we shouldn’t have any ties with a communist country.”

Yet many more have offered their conciliatory tones. DSALthuas wrote,
“As far as the Vietnam War goes, it’s over and well past time to make peace with the Vietnamese and with our own ghosts. I think Fayetteville is doing the right thing and I’ll go back if they ask me.”
Chavonne sees the sister-city relationship as a way to highlight Vietnamese culture, pursue economic development and give veterans the thanks they deserved but didn’t receive four decades ago.

Some US cities already have connections with Vietnamese cities, Pittsburgh has paired with Danang and San Francisco with Ho Chi Minh City. Also called “twinning’, cities link up with each other to promote understanding and fellowship. According to the Sister Cities International website, “The sister cities program seeks to creates and strengthens partnerships between U.S. and international communities.” The program strives to build global cooperation at the municipal level, promote cultural understanding and stimulate economic development.

• Develop municipal partnerships between U.S. cities, counties, and states and similar jurisdictions in other nations.
• Provide opportunities for city officials and citizens to experience and explore other cultures through long-term community partnerships.
• Create an atmosphere in which economic and community development can be implemented and strengthened.
• Stimulate environments through which communities will creatively learn, work, and solve problems together through reciprocal cultural, educational, municipal, business, professional and technical exchanges and projects.
• Collaborate with organizations in the United States and other countries which share similar goals.

United States Re-established ties in 1995 and exchanged ambassadors in 1997. Let’s hope Mayor Chavonne and the officials in Soc Trang can see these two cities united.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Interview: Raymond Harvey of the US Department of State’s SportsUnited Program

Sports United Interview

“Connecting People, Creating Understanding”: Interview with Raymond Harvey from the USA’s SportsUnited Program

Monday, April 19, 2010 at 11:22am

“Connecting People, Creating Understanding”

I have written previously about the Athletic Exchanges between Iran and the United States. While conducting research for the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I came into closer contact with the institutions that coordinate these exchanges. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to conduct an interview with Raymond H. Harvey from The US State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Exchange.“Connecting People, Creating Understanding” is the ECA’s motto.

Interview Conducted by Martin Milinski

Can you give us a brief description of how your organization operates and how it started?
The Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) restarted sports programming in 2002. Sports are a shared cultural passion that can bring people together across the divisions of region, race and religion in athletic competition that is a powerful source of national pride and solidarity. Through international sports, we see the proliferation of messages of international understanding, cultural tolerance and mutual respect. There are three Sports United Programs.
Sports Envoys-Working with the national sports leagues and the US Olympic Committee, athletes and coaches in various sports are chosen to serve as envoys or ambassadors of sport in overseas programs that include conducting clinics, visiting schools and speaking to youth. The American athletes and coaches conduct drills and team building activities, as well as engage the youth in a dialogue on the importance of an education, positive health practices and respect for diversity.
Sports Visitors -Nominated by our US embassies overseas, selected athletes, managers and coaches are brought to the U.S. for technical sports training, sports management, conflict resolution training and exposure to valuable US sports contacts and then are encouraged to return to conduct in-country clinics for youth with their newly learned skills.
Sports Grant Competition-ECA has an annual open competition under our International Sports Initiative. Public and private non-profit institutions, 501(c)(3), may submit proposals to discuss approaches designed to enhance and improve the infrastructure of youth sports programs. The focus of all programs must be reaching out to non-elite youth ages 7-17. There are four themes that a proposal can address; Youth Sports Management, Training Sports Coaches, Youth with Disability, and Sports and Health. The list of eligible countries changes each year.

Have you seen any changes in your work under the new administration?
No, there have been no changes.

When I told my team about the USDoS/ECA work, no one had heard about it. I found it strange, that your work is still unknown to some. Would you like to comment on that?
Overseas, our programs are better known by their brand name such as the Fulbright program, the International visitor program, Muskie Scholarship program, Humphrey Program, etc. I don‘t find it odd that people fail to identify the organization that supports these branded programs. The brand names have been around longer than their various institutional homes. The exchange program was part of the Department of State, then housed at the United State Information Agency and now back in the Department.

I saw that the Women’s Badminton team was denied visas for their trip to Iran this year. Do you see this as a setback for your program?
No, the Iranian Sports Federations continue to reach out to their U.S. counterparts. USA Wrestling has been invited to return to Iran for a competition. The Iranian Basketball Federation wants to come to the U.S. to train. The Iranian MFA determines who receives a visas, both exit and entry. U.S. Women’s Badminton team was traveling to participant in an international tournament.

As far as you know, did the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs give a reason for their rejection?
The MFA explanation was there was insufficient time to issue the visas.

It was interesting to learn about the case of Hamed Ehadadi’s signing with the Memphis Grizzlies. I saw that the NBA had some legal difficulty signing him. Could you just give me some information, if you have any, about how that issue was resolved?
Not sure that there was much difference between Yao Ming’s signing and Ehadadi’s signing. There are always contractual issues between a player’s government and the player when someone signs overseas. I believe that the Memphis Grizzlies were required to obtain an OFAC license which took some time.
What challenges are your Program currently facing?
We have more demand for sports programming than resources available. Sports are governed by their respective seasons. NBA players are available in July and August while baseball players are free in November and December. These are very small windows of opportunity. When combined with differences in school years, holidays and religious celebration, programming can be very tough.

Is there anything NGOs like us can do to support your work?
We run an annual grants competition to enable U.S. NGOs to work directly with the Department.

What is next for the BECA?
I cannot speak for the Bureau, but SportsUnited wants to branch out into other less traditional sports. We are currently working with snowboarders and NASCAR

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Jouranlism, Politics | Leave a comment

Pageant at Wagah

Pageant at Wagah

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 3:54pm

For sure you know that Germany was divided during the Cold War.
If so, you most likely then are familiar with the Berlin Wall. Perhaps then Checkpoint Charlie rings a bell? This was one of the few borders crossings between East and West Germany, the focal point for East-West tensions and the site of the 1961 Berlin crisis.

Maybe then you have heard of the 38th parallel which divided Korea after the Second World War? Perhaps you have heard of Panmunjom where North and South Korean forces face each other with looks that could kill? There is even a divided conference room with North Korean soldiers occupying one side and their southern rivals the other. Borders are serious business in places like these.
But have you heard of the Wagah border between India and Pakistan?

After receiving its independence in 1947, India fractured along religious lines creating the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the secular Republic of India. This division was in many ways violent and since division; as many as 4 wars have been fought between Pakistan and India.

One of the major points of contention is the Kashmir region between India, China and Pakistan. Pakistan considers Kashmir a disputed territory whose status should be defined by the Kashmiris, India considers Kashmir to be Indian. Not to be left out, China has claimed portions of Kashmir as parts of Tibet and many Kashmiris feel Kashmir should be independent of both India and Pakistan.

Wagah is a village in the disputed Kashmir territory which sits on the Grand Trunk Road astride the only border crossing between India and Pakistan. To this day, the eastern side of the village is Indian and the western Pakistani.
Naturally tensions there run high.

Yet, the border has developed a life of its own and the daily opening and closing has become a barometer for Indian-Pakistani relations. Each day elite Pakistani Rangers and Indian Border Security force face off in a pageant of overwhelming machismo and nationalist sentiments full of stomping, striding, posturing, leering, and intimidation which would make a peacock blush.
Much like a changing of the guards on steroids, it simply must be seen to be believed.

While the ceremony cannot be described as warm, it is civil if not cordial. It does therefore represent a unique sort of cultural diplomacy as each group is forced to cooperate to perfect this delicate ballet of coordinated antagonism while saving face. In an area as volatile as Kashmir, any cooperation, even one based on mutual intimidation, is better than armed conflict. Oftentimes international relations is a bumpy road, people have different ways of establishing a dialogue, fostering understanding and building trust. If these daily combined operations can serve as an outlet for resentment it is a good thing. At the very least, it’s a great show, and there are no tanks.

Indian Border Gaurd and Pakistani Ranger shake hands at Wagah

By Martin Milinski

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Jouranlism, Politics | Leave a comment

Diplomacy case Study: Iran and the US

Case Study: Iran and the United States

Few nations have relationships as troubled as Iran and the US.

Today, whether it comes to international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, fossil fuels, the United Nations or the Middle East Peace Process, there are few global issues where the strained relation between the US and Iran are not clearly felt. As a result, there are few instances where cultural diplomacy is more desperately needed.

In this regard, it has become absolutely vital to arrive at a clear understanding of the relations between these two nations. What follows is a case study of precisely that.  The study will begin with a brief summary of the past and present relations of Iran and the US including attempts to reach a dialogue. The case study will then conclude with an analysis of the situation and some suggestions for future endeavors

Introduction to Iranian and US Relations

The US and Iran severed official diplomatic relations following the turmoil of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and currently have no official relations. However, it was not always so. Ambassador exchanges began in the mid-1800s and during the Second World War ties were cemented as Iran collaborated with the Allies allowing the transportation of war material through Iran to the beleaguered Russians in the Caucasus region.

As the Cold War Developed, US Iranian ties depended; the US sought further Iranian cooperation in containing communism in Asia while on Iran received military and economic support and enjoyed Western technological assistance in exploiting its oil wealth. At this time, cultural, military, economic and political relations ran deep. Yet, it was precisely in this context that US-Iranian relations grew then ultimately withered.

The Iranian perspective.

Iran could be considered a fiercely anti-American nation. Antagonism to the US occupies a central role in the daily political, and in many cases, the social fabric of Iran. This animosity has its sources in previous decades and revolves around two main themes; opposition to US intrusion into domestic Iranian affairs and what Iran considers to be US aggression. [1]

The CIA/UK orchestrated coup that removed Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953 is one example of US interference in Iranian affairs. Additionally, Iran accuses the US of fostering rebellion in Iran through funding and support of anti-government groups in Iran. The Free Life Party of Kurdistan (Kurdish) and the Jundallah (Balochi) are two militant nationalist movements that Iran has long charged the United States with funding.[2] In addition, Iran charges that the US has played a role in the demonstrations against the 2010 Presidential elections in Iran

Military aggression is another issue that lies at the top of Iran’s list of grievances. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) most of the world’s nations supported moderate Iraq against radical Iran. Yet Iran resents the US support of Iran’s enemy during this war in particular. Specifically, Iran continues to carry a grudge over the US supplying Iraq with the chemical weapons it used during the war. [3]

Adding fuel to the fire, in July of 1988, US guided missile Cruiser the USS Vincennes on station in the Persian Gulf mistakenly shot down Iranian Airlines flight 655 killing 290. The US maintains the downing was a case of mistaken identity with the Iranians considering it a deliberate act of war and another example of US aggression.

A final major sticking point is the economic sanctions that the US has placed on Iran. Starting under the Carter administration, the US has steadily increased its sanctions regime in place. These sanctions prohibit the transfer of much-needed military and petroleum technology as well as prohibiting US companies and individuals from investing in or doing business with Iranian nationals and companies.[4]

In short, in Iranian political thought, anti-American sentiments run deep. The list of grievances is long; foreign intervention, coups, military aggression, support of Iraq and not to mention a perceived political disrespect for the Iran itself and accusations of American attempts of global hegemony. Recently a senior Iranian diplomat summed up the Iranian view,

“Our biggest problem with the U.S. is its arrogance. The United States thinks itself the commander in chief of the entire world and thinks it has the right to dictate to everyone what to do and how to act. That’s arrogant and disrespectful. We reject this.”

These are the major issues that lie at the center of Iranian and US relations.[5]

The American Perspective

Despite the cooperation of the 40s, 50s and 60s, it was the overthrow of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the subsequent 444-day hostage crisis which severed American and Iranian relations. However, according to the United States, tensions with Iran are perpetuated by Iran’s current conduct rather than events that occurred 30 years ago. Today it’s Iran’s nuclear program and support for international terrorism, which the US considers to be one of the major the obstacles to the resumption of US-Iran relations.[6]

Currently, Iran’s nuclear program might be the single greatest impediment to the resumption of US-Iranian relations. According to the US, Iran has been developing a clandestine nuclear weapons program under the guise of an effort to acquire atomic energy. Iran contends that their program is peaceful. Nevertheless, the US sites a series of inconsistencies and failure to meet AEIA requirements. This case is currently being played out.

Iran’s alleged support for international terrorism is another major point of contention. According to the US Department of State, the government of Iran is a Designated State Sponsor of Terrorism. This means that Iran provides support for groups who target civilians for political goals.[7] For the most part, this support amounts to the arming, funding, training, or providing sanctuary to those groups. The United States alleges that Iran supports terrorism primarily through its proxies, two well-known ones being Hezbollah and Hamas. Inside Iran there is the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) which the US also is considering labeling a terrorist organization do to its provision of terrorist training and support to groups active in areas such as Georgia, Chechnya, the Balkans and the wider Middle East.[8]

Furthermore, the United States charges Iran with supporting groups that have committed terrorist attacks upon the US specifically. Two such cases are; the April 1983, bombing of a US Embassy in Beirut with a loss of over 60 lives and the October 1983, suicide bombing of a US Marine barracks in Beirut with a loss of 299 lives. The US believes Iran to be responsible for planning and coordination these attacks and civil cases have been brought against Iran.[9] In American eyes, Iran’s support for international terrorism, its nuclear weapons program and its vitriolic anti-Western policy creates a ‘perfect storm’ which the US simply cannot ignore.

Iran-US Relations: Missed Opportunities

As the open military clashes of the 1980s subsided each side entrenched themselves and a type of Cold War developed. As a result, Iranian and American relations are difficult to outline as they did not follow a linear path. Often disagreements ran parallel to breakthroughs. Additionally, on both sides, regular changes in Presidents and global issues have left both nations with a somewhat incoherent strategy to each other. However, as the Twentieth Century closed each nation seemed to be sending out feelers in order to gauge the chances of a re-establishment of relations on their own terms.

Khatami, Clinton and Bush

The 1990s saw a slight thawing of relations between the two nations. This was possible largely in part due to the election of Mohamed Khatami in 1996. Viewed by many as a moderate reformer, Khatami made peace overtures to the United States.[10] For example, in an interview with CNN’s Christianne Amanpour, Khatami proposed cultural exchanges between the US and Iran hoping to the ‘crack the wall of mistrust’.[11] The United States accepted this offer and the two nations began hosting athletic-based cultural exchanges beginning in 1996.[12]

Around the same time, the US also lifted some of the sanctions on Iran and US Secretary of State Madeline Albright invited Iranian diplomats to ‘draw up a road map to normalized relations’. As the cultural exchanges continued, Albright publicly described the US’s role in the 1953 coup as ‘regrettable’.[13] In 2005, Khatami ran for election but lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Amadinejad and Bush

Anyone familiar with the Presidencies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and George W. Bush will not be surprised to learn that US-Iranian relations did not improve markedly during their terms in office.

Perhaps the first indication of this trend was Bush’s now infamous Axis of Evil speech that he gave in 2002 while Khatami was still President of Iran. During this speech Bush directly identified Iran, due to its support of terrorism and nuclear ambitions, as being a clear threat to international security, labeling them a member of an ‘axis of evil’.[14] Many analysts suggest this speech dealt a death-blow to the nascent reform movement in Iran.[15]

As strange as it might seem, the 2003 US invasion of Iraq actually brought the US and Iran closer. On some level, it has obligated the US to recognize (perhaps tacitly) that Iran is a regional power and ultimate success in Iraq or Afghanistan will only be achieved with Iranian cooperation.[16] In April of 2003, at the outset of the war with Iraq, Iran approached the United States with what is now known as the “Grand Bargain”.[17] This offer was officially presented through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran which represents US interests in Iran. Iran sought; a lifting of the crippling US sanctions, diplomatic recognition of Iran, discontinuation of the US funding of domestic Iranian opposition groups and an end to the US policy of regime change in Iran.[18] In return, Iran offered to accept a two-state solution regarding Israel and Palestine, to reduce the funding of what the US considered terrorist organizations,  pledged cooperation with the US in Iraq and Afghanistan and finally offered to enter into a Persian Gulf security agreement which, in theory, would have voluntarily brought an end to Iran’s nuclear program.

The diplomats involved met and the US believed the offer to be sincere. They then passed a report on to Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, who agreed the offer was significant but rejected it as “a non-starter”. The Hawks in the Whitehouse ignored the offer as they felt it made no real concessions on the issues the US deemed significant.[19]

It is therefore surprising that in May of 2006, Iranian president Amadinejad again sent a letter to US President George W. Bush suggesting a meeting where both could discuss Iran’s nuclear program.[20] In September of the same year, Ahmadinejad challenged Bush to a debate at the United Nations. Both offers were considered publicity stunts and as they, again, made no clear concessions on the necessary issues, were rejected by the US. White house representative quipped, “No, there will be no steel-cage grudge match between Bush and Ahmadinejad.”[21] At the end of the Bush administration relations remained hostile.


To many people the 2008 election of Barak Obama to the United States Presidency signaled a shift in American foreign policy. While this remains to be seen Obama has undoubtedly changed the tone. Obama declared meeting and negotiating with Iran as one of his campaign platforms.[22]

More recently Obama has poetically verbalized the obstinate American position of in his first interview as US President symbolically given to  Middle Eastern News Agency stating, “”If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”[23] In short, from the American perspective, the names might have changed but the game has not.

Regardless of Ahmadinejad’s congratulatory message to Obama upon his election, the Iranian position also remains unchanged.[24] Another senior Iranian diplomat answered a question about potential negotiations between the US and Iran,

“Our idea of negotiation is mutual respect. They should know by now that they can’t impose their will on Iran. If they don’t change their attitude then negotiations are meaningless. If America wasn’t arrogant, they would send an answer to Mr. Ahamdinejad’s congratulatory letter to President Obama. Manners dictate that when someone says hello you answer them back.” [25]

From their perspective, Obama’s election has not brought any apparent changes in policy or behavior as well.


In light of the long past and repeated, albeit half-hearted, attempts to establish a dialogue one must ask why these two nations have remained so hostile. The answer lies less in the past as one might think. In the case of Iran it is a matter of path dependency and ambiguity. For the US it’s a matter of not backing down and surrendering a powerful position. In both cases, a lack of trust is a central theme.

In Iran, anti-Americanism has become such an integral part of policy that changing course is nearly impossible. The Islamic Republic was founded upon a perception of American aggression and perpetuating that perception of aggression is key to the regime’s legitimacy. As long as tensions between with the US remain, the Islamic Regime has legitimacy and power. As Robert Litwak has observed,

“Hostility to the US has been a central plank of the revolutionary platform and sometimes appears to be the Revolution’s only platform Deprived of this, radicals would have to devise another enemy, another excuse, or possibly even a program…Normalization implies that Iran would be a country like any other, losing its Revolutionary mission. The more pragmatic Iran becomes, the less ideology will exercise a hold on its citizens. The clerical regime would then lose its power and control over the country.”333

Further, the internal mechanisms of the Iranian government means that foreign policy goals are always subordinate to domestic political wrangling. The underlying problem, says Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, is,

“There’s been a breakdown in the country’s foreign policy machinery. Iran doesn’t have a foreign policy right now. It has domestic politics, and its foreign policies are just a sporadic expression of that. It’s not sinister; it’s not duplicitous; it’s just incompetent.”[26]

In this regard, not knowing who is calling the shots and when makes diplomatic relations elusive leaving America unable to engage Iran with effective diplomacy.

Furthermore, in terms of international relations, Iran’s position and demands can be described as ambiguous. For example, Iran has, on many occasions, provided list of grievances requiring apologies such as the 1953 coup, the Vincennes incident and the Iran Iraq War. However, as mentioned, the US has on occasion already publicly apologized, expressed regret or provided compensation for such incidents. For example, in 1996 a 61.8 million dollar settlement was reached under the International Court of Justice regarding the Iran Air tragedy yet Iran still demands an apology and reparations.[27].

Making matters more complicated, the Iranian government often objects to matters that have little bearing on international relations. For example, in the Hollywood film The Wrestler an actor portraying a professional wrestler destroys an Iranian flag during a show. The Iranian government has objected to this calling it ‘psychological warfare’, a somewhat odd accusation considering the government sponsored anti-American propaganda that permeates much of Iranian society.[28] This idiosyncratic approach to foreign policy seems to be a legitimate, perhaps contrived, obstacle to an effective dialogue between the two nations.

On the other hand, the United States seems to be asking a great deal from Iran with very few guarantees. The disagreement over Iran’s nuclear program is an excellent example of this dynamic. The Islamic Regime has sensibly framed the nuclear issue as a national issue, in short, linking a nuclear program to national sovereignty. If the US is expecting Iran to surrender its nuclear program, it might be waiting a long time. Should Iran surrender its nuclear program, what guarantees do they have that such a move will be reciprocated? To solve this dilemma the US should, and is, seek sanctions in the United Nations. This would have the twofold effect of increasing the pressure on Iran as well as providing a mechanism for removing those sanctions once Iran has complied.

A Case for Cultural Diplomacy

In light of these dilemmas, one could suggest cultural diplomacy as an excellent tool in reestablishing relations. Cultural Diplomacy revolves around the themes of dialogue, understanding and trust, all lacking elements n Iran-US relations.[29] However, between the citizens of each nation, feelings are far less belligerent. Recent polls show that 50% of Americans support establishing a dialogue with Iran while slightly more Iranians, 61%, support negotiations without preconditions. A further 73% of Americans supports the use of diplomacy to solve issues with Iran.[30] Therefore, one must ask, “What are the real stumbling blocks to renewed relations?” At the Governmental level, renowned US-Iranian relations expert Dr. Houshang Amirahmadi summarizes it this way, “The gravest problem between Iran and the West is this issue of distrust between the two sides.”[31]

It would appear then that the political leaders and diplomats have too far entrenched themselves in their respective positions to allow for the flexibility required. Athletes, artists and students do not have these limitations and would represent the ideal cultural ambassadors.

In this regard, the cultural exchanges initiated under the Clinton/Khatami administrations have borne fruit. Take the case of Hamed Ehadadi as an example. Ehadadi is an Iranian basketball player who visited the US on a State Department sponsored athletic exchange. While there he was noticed by National Basketball Association talent scouts who offered him a position on the Memphis Grizzlies Basketball team.[32] Doing so was not easy as entering into contracts with Iranian nationals is prohibited under US sanctions regime, an example of the ability of private citizens to achieve where politicians cannot. Since joining the NBA, Ehadadi has served as a cultural ambassador and even meeting and shaking hands with an Israeli NBA player Omri Casspi.

Another example is the frequent Greco-wrestling exchanges between Iran and the US that were also begun during the Clinton-Khatami period. These exchanges have gone a long way in simply establishing a dialogue upon which to foster understanding. During the exchanges, both Iranians and Americans take advantage of the off-mat time to meet their foreign counterparts and learn more about each other’s respective cultures. After a recent competition in 2007, member of the Iranian Junior Wrestling delegation, Abbas Ali Genii said, “this program has changed my outlook on the United States.  I really felt the spirit of cooperation and friendship”.[33]

Yet athletics aren’t the only thing that can unite Iranians and Americans. In March of 2010, an American film delegation of actors and producers visited their Iranian counterparts.[34] The visit was not without controversy, as Ahmadinejad’s cultural advisor demanded the delegation first apologize for negative depictions on Iran in American movies. Regardless, Hollywood Producer Sidney Ganis described the focus of his trip to Iran this way, “To communicate with our fellow filmmakers….to meet, talk to, express, visit with, understand the problems of Iranian filmmakers, and express to them universal problems of filmmaking and just generally exchange ideas.” When asked about future possibilities of cooperation Ganis replied, “Well, we’re ready to go, filmmakers to filmmakers. That’s why we’re here. We’re open; the Iranian filmmakers are also open, to even more mutual dialogue.”[35]

In closing, few nations have maintained their mutual animosity as Iran and the US have. Simply having conflicts is not a good enough explanation for thirty years of bitterness. Russia and Germany have cordial if not good relations; two of America’s strongest allies, Japan and Germany were at one time mortal enemies of the US. Something lies at the heart of the US-Iran issue. This study suggests that internal Iranian politics have combined to create a dynamic where re-establishing US relations amounts to political suicide as leader after leader use an anti-American slant to slander opponents. Additionally, the regime in Iran uses the threat of American intervention to maintain its control over many of its people.

At the same time, the US perpetuates the conflict simply because it can. As the world’s last superpower, there is little that Iran can do to compel the US’s behavior. Leadership in the US seems to take the position that the responsibility to make the first move rests solely on Iran; Obama’s ‘unclenched fist’ statement being a good example of this policy. In either case, governments have only succeeded to institutionalize disagreements. All of this works counter to what the people of each nation desire. Both sides have expressed a desire to conduct talks.

In September of 2009, Iranian and US diplomats publicly met in Geneva Switzerland. While some suggest that these meeting have been conducted for years on an unofficial level, it does show a sincere attempt to discuss issues if not evidence of a new phase in Iranian-US relations.

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[7] Raphael F. Perl, “Terrorism, the Future and US Foreign Policy”. Issue Brief: 95112, Congressional Research Service, Washington D.C. (December 9, 1996). Retrieved, April 13, 2010

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[21] Vick, Karl. “No Proposals in Iranian’s Letter to Bush, U.S. Says.” The Washington Post. Retrieved 29-10-2006. “No ‘steel-cage, grudge match’ between Bush, Ahmadinejad.” CNN. Retrieved 10-01-2007.

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May 19, 2010 Posted by | Academic, History, Politics | 1 Comment