The United States, which under President Obama has promised to engage Iran on the basis of mutual respect, and which under both presidents Bush and Obama has professed its admiration for the Iranian people and their culture (if not for their government), this week announced the appointment of Dennis Ross as the point person in charge of the Iran portfolio at the State Department (but curiously not the White House). In its announcement, however, the State Department referred not to Iran, but to some fictitious place it calls "The Gulf," a body of water not found on any reputable map. In doing so, the State Department undoubtedly knew it would tweak the noses of the Ahmadinejad government as well as the Ayatollahs and leadership in Tehran, but it should have also known that Iranians everywhere, of every political stripe, inside and outside Iran, would be equally incensed at what they have perceived over the last few years as an attempt by the U.S. (and its Arab allies) to diminish, distort, and tarnish their history, which they view as glorious and deserving of admiration. As citizens of the only nation in the region with a history (as a nation) longer than 100 years, the name "Persian Gulf" is an incredibly sensitive issue for Iranians, and regardless of political opinion or leanings, they take great offense at any attempt to change a historic name they take great pride in. Leaving aside the issue of whether Ambassador Ross is the best choice given Iranian (and some Arab) distaste for his perceived biases, it would behoove the State Department spokesmen and women to carefully consider the sensitivities of the Iranian people (as well consulting a map or an encyclopedia) in future references to the region. Only if the U.S. is sincere in its desire to engage Iran, and to be a friend to (at least) the Iranian people, that is.
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