Friday, March 30, 2007

Iran Under Threat From British Military Provocation

UK 'fails' to win Iran row support

Iran has "suspended" the release of sailor Faye Turney, blaming London's "wrong behaviour"

Britain has failed to win support from the UN Security Council for a strong statement to "deplore" Iran's detention of 15 British naval crew members.

Instead, after tense negotiations, the council agreed on a watered-down statement expressing "grave concern" and calling for an early resolution of the problem, including the Britons' release.

Britain had wanted the council to "deplore" Iran's detention of the Britons, call for their immediate release, and state that they were seized in Iraqi waters, but Russia led objections from several members.

Earlier, a Western diplomat quoted Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador, as telling the council that Moscow would "not be able to accept" the move.

Diplomats also reported that several Security Council members - including Russia, China, Indonesia and Qatar - said they had no way of independently ascertaining where the incident took place and were therefore wary of condemning it.

Britain says satellite data proves its 15 sailors and marines were seized last week in Iraqi waters.

Iran has shown video footage of the capture and charts it says make clear the capture took place in Iranian waters.

On trial

A senior Iranian official has said the sailors may be put on trial.

On Thursday, in a sign of support among EU members for the British position, the French foreign ministry summoned Iran's ambassador to demand the captured servicemen's swift release.

Tony Blair, the British prime minister, said he was disgusted by Iran's treatment of the prisoners.

"Obviously I felt the same way most people do, which is a sense of disgust that people would be used in that way," he told ITV news on Thursday.

"What I'm afraid we can't do is end up in negotiation over hostages. What we can't do is say there's some kind of quid pro quo or tit-for-tat that goes on.

"This is not a situation that can be resolved by anything other than the unconditional release of all our people."

Stilted English

Iran has shown the prisoners on television, and on Thursday distributed a second letter purportedly from the only female captive, Faye Turney, confessing to entering Iranian waters.

Both letters were in stilted English, with unusual phrases that linguistic experts said appeared to have been translated from Farsi into English.

"Unfortunately during the course of our mission we entered into Iranian waters. Even through our wrongdoing, they have still treated us well and humanely, which I am and always will be eternally grateful," Thursday's letter said.

It called for British forces to withdraw from Iraq.

Beckett's reaction

Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary, responded in a statement: "We have not seen this letter but we have grave concerns about the circumstances in which it was prepared and issued.

"This blatant attempt to use leading seaman Turney for propaganda purposes is outrageous and cruel."

Iran had said on Wednesday that it would free Turney soon. But on Thursday Alireza Afshar, the Iranian military commander, said her release had been "suspended".

"The wrong behaviour of those who live in London caused the suspension," he said, adding that Britain must apologise for entering Iran's waters and promise it would not happen again.

Turkish mediation

Meanwhile, Iranian state television reported that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, had urged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, to allow Turkey access to the seized troops and to free Turney.

The channel said Ahmadinejad would consider the Turkish request.

The Iranian president also reportedly accused Britain of using propaganda in the case rather than trying to solve it through diplomatic channels.

Turkey maintains good relations with Iran and the West.

Separately, the US said on Thursday that two aircraft carrier groups were in the Gulf not to provoke Tehran but to reassure friendly governments in the area.

Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state, said in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "We are not there to provoke any military conflict."

Source: Al-Jazeera


Middle East
March 27, 2007
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

NEW YORK - Even though Security Council Resolution 1747 was passed this weekend to impose tougher new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, the mood at the United Nations was anything but celebratory.

The latest sanctions block Iranian arms exports and impose an international freeze on the assets of 28 people and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs. The measures were adopted in a unanimous vote and give Iran another 60 days to comply with the UN's nuclear demands to stop uranium-enrichment activities or, most likely, face even harsher measures.

Yet with the council's South African president expressing "deep disappointment" about the disregard by the permanent five (the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia) plus Germany for a call for a 90-day time-out, and other non-permanent members criticizing the council's "selectivity", the vote was cast under a growing internal fissure at the UN.

This is a divide between the nations with nuclear weapons and developing nations in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The issue is further clouded by the Iranian seizure on Friday of 15 British sailors and British complaints of growing Iran-inspired attacks by Iraqi militants against their forces in southern Iraq.

The British ambassador to the UN praised the Security Council vote as a "unanimous and unambiguous signal" by the international community regarding the "unacceptable" Iranian path of proliferation. Yet even the self-congratulatory European diplomats had an air of unnatural circumspection about them - and not to mention duplicity as they went on to preach the need for Iran to respect its "non-proliferation obligations" under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

It was almost as if they had all been in another hall when several Third World representatives called for the need to respect the rights of all nations and questioned the perverse logic that weapons of mass destruction are safe in some hands and not in others. But in reality, no one, not even the US, can possibly ignore South Africa's warning that the Iran nuclear issue "affects the whole international community".

"Iran's behavior reminds me of the Japanese movie Kagemusha," a Third World delegate at the UN told this author. "It [the film] shows a warlord holding his ground against all odds and his troops putting up a gallant fight, and when they triumph, the warlord says 'a mountain doesn't move'."

Certainly, many Iranians and friends of Iran around the world hope so and wonder if they have seen the last of the Third World's caving in to the powers that be at the UN.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, addressing the council after its approval of Resolution 1747, repeatedly referred to the NAM's support of Iran's "inalienable rights" and expressed concern about double standards and hypocrisy with regard to his country.

Some good news as far as Iran is concerned is that the resolution deals with the issue of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. This was after much resistance by the US and Britain to Arab lobbying for its inclusion as a veiled reference to Israel's nuclear arms, which have hitherto gone unnoticed by the Security Council.

Calling the council's actions "illegal" and "without basis", Mottaki drew comparison to the council's disregard for Iran's rights when the country was invaded by Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 1980. He pledged that just as Iran fought for its rights then, when Saddam occupied "38,000 square kilometers of Iranian territory" without an iota of condemnation by the Security Council, it would do the same now.

"This resolution by establishing sanctions is punishing a country that according to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has never diverted its nuclear program ... with all its nuclear facilities under the monitoring of the IAEA's inspectors and their cameras," Mottaki said. He added that Iran has "fulfilled all its commitments to the IAEA and the NPT and demands nothing more than its inalienable rights under the NPT. Is there any better way to undermine an important multilateral instrument that deals directly with international peace and security? Isn't this action by the Security Council in and of itself a grave threat to international peace and security?"

Indeed, Iran announced on Sunday it was partially suspending cooperation with the IAEA. Gholam Hossein Elham, a government spokesman, was reported to have told state television that the suspension will last until Iran's nuclear case is referred back to the IAEA from the Security Council.

Sailors high and dry

There is now good reason to be concerned about possible military ramifications to the sanctions, given that Iran's capturing of the British sailors could be directly connected to London's leading role against Iran in the nuclear row. This raises the prospect of a long ordeal over the sailors, who Iran claims have "confessed" to transgressing into Iranian waters.

Already, a top Iranian lawmaker has supported the action by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in taking the sailors and hinted at lengthy legal proceedings, much to the chagrin of the British government, which has demanded their immediate release.

A political analyst close to the government told this author that Tehran may not release them until all the Iranian "hostages" in the United States' hands are free. Six diplomats and scores of others, deemed "agents" by the US, are in its custody. London's plans to extricate itself quietly from Iraq may now be in jeopardy.

From Iran's vantage, however, what matters is to drive home the point, expressed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last week, that those who inflict pain on Iran will have to pay a price.

The escalating crisis may not, after all, develop into the kind of air campaign that the likes of US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh have been penning for some time. Rather, it is beginning to spiral in an entirely different direction that poses a serious threat to regional and international peace - that is, small skirmishes combined with proxy attacks, hostage-taking, intelligence war and the like, which can easily trigger bigger and deadlier showdowns.

Again, Iran insists that the nuclear dispute is "easily resolvable" through candid negotiation, and to that effect it has given an implicit nod to the so-called Swiss proposal that calls for "dry centrifuges", that is, putting enrichment on "hot standby" to give negotiation some breathing space.

Unfortunately, the US has given this and similar proposals the cold shoulder and is simply keen on piling up the pressure on Tehran to comply with its demand for a complete halt to its uranium-enrichment program and the construction of a heavy-water reactor in Arak.

But what if Iran frustrates the rosy expectations of the diplomats devising the US approach in this crisis? Is the US willing to risk a nightmare regional conflagration then?

Already, given the growing interlocking of the nuclear crisis and the Iraq crisis, the fate of the next multilateral security summit on Iraq scheduled for Turkey next month has been cast under a cloud of uncertainty, and it is fairly certain that things will grow worse instead of getting better any time soon.

Time might be running out on the United States' international coalition against Iran, in light of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's call for respecting Iran's right to produce nuclear fuel. Manmohan made this policy announcement in a recent meeting with former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami.

In addition to India, Iran can now count on growing support from Indonesia, South Africa, many Latin American nations and, indeed, most of the developing world. With the bubble of "international consensus" with regard to Iran's supposed nuclear threat wearing thinner and thinner and about to burst, and with the indirect infusion of Israel into Security Council debates, as mentioned above, Iranian policymakers are not about to throw in the towel and resign themselves to the pressures of sanctions.

With a mixture of a hard-power approach in Iraq and the region on the one hand and soft-power diplomacy in the world community on the other, Tehran is betting on causing a sea-change in terms of sympathy for its stance against the hypocrisy of the nuclear-armed states that control the Security Council.

This is a high-price gambit that may backfire on Iran, as some claim it already has, with reports of Russian technicians leaving the Bushehr nuclear power plant they have been building in Iran unfinished. And many still believe that Iran needs to show a serious willingness to accommodate the anxieties of the international community over its nuclear program.

European diplomats addressing the Security Council this weekend uniformly reiterated the European Union's seriousness about the comprehensive offers of nuclear assistance submitted to Iran last June. Iran reacted somewhat favorably to that "international package of incentives" and should now re-examine the package and seek a formal answer to its response.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.
Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved.

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