After parading eight British navy sailors arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' navy yesterday, an Iranian official said the eight are under interrogation and may be put on trial for violatign Iranian waters. Meanwhile, intense diplomatic talks began between Tehran and London in a bid to difuse what top officials in both countries call "an insignificant incident." Observers say the seisure of Briish patrol boats and crewmen may indicate Iran's displeasure with Britain and the EU over tough IAEA resolution. The state TV monopoly paraded eight British marines and warned that they would be prosecuted for penetrating Iran’s waters, as intense diplomatic effort was underway to obtain their release.
The marines will be prosecuted for entering Iranian territorial waters, the Al-Alam television network said, adding that the advanced weapons, global navigation devices and communications equipment seized on the boat show that the detained British marines were not “ordinary sailors.
” The three small patrol boats they were using were unarmed but the sailors were carrying personal weapons, Britain’s Defense Ministry said yesterday. “There was a routine river patrol delivering some boats to the Iraqi river patrol directorate. They set off very early this morning, communication was lost with them, but that is not unusual because of the distance and the terrain there, and the next thing we heard was that they had been detained by Iranian forces,” said Major Ian Clooney, the British Multi-Division Spokesman, adding that the eight men were doing “nothing unusual.”
The boats were 1000 meters inside Iranian territory. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ navy impounded the Royal Navy’s fast-moving, anti-smuggling boats and detained the crews early on Monday in the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, the southern part of the Iran-Iraq border.
The British embassy in Tehran said it was trying to gain access to the eight marines, and that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had discussed the matter by telephone with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi. “What we are concentrating on now is contacts with the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs and trying to gain access,” said diplomat Andrew Dunn, a spokesman for the embassy.
Interrogation of the British detainees will continue until the situation becomes clear, foreign ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi said.
Monday’s incident has led to “speculation that the seizure was intended to remind the coalition that Iran's cooperation on Iraq is not to be taken for granted,” reports the Washington Post. Britain was a sponsor of an IAEA resolution Friday in which the UN organization said it “deplores” Iran’s erratic cooperation with nuclear inspectors.
British diplomats hope Iran’s seizure of Royal Navy vessels and commandos “was simply the work of an over-zealous local commander” from the Revolutionary Guards and “not retaliation for last week’s IAEA resolution, the Times of London reports.
Both sides will soon arrive at the conclusion that this was a short-lived diplomatic incident, and it certainly is Britain’s view that this is an insignificant incident, Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies’ head of Middle East and North Africa program Daniel Neep tells Radio Farda.
IIt is possible to guess that a local commander, without orders from above, had arrested the British sailors, and that the event was not sanctioned or planned at the top, he notes. This was a local incident that suddenly assumed bigger dimensions, he says, adding the problem may be due to Iran’s political system: These actions may be a means for the IRGC to show and consolidate its power, he says.
Britain was not alone in drafting and passing the IAEA resolution on Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran’s focusing all its anger on Britain appears one-sided and imbalanced, he says. Iranian authorities may think that their cooperation with the coalition forces on Iraq would impact their case in the IAEA board, whereas these issues are unrelated, he adds. (Shahran Tabari, London)
This was not the first time that British navy vessels operating in Iraq entered Iranian waters, but the Iranian government tolerated their incursions because Iran was cooperating with the coalition forces in Iraq, Tehran University professor Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh tells Radio Farda.
However, he adds, in recent months the EU took several steps that were clearly against the Islamic Republic. In addition to drafting the IAEA resolution and issuing a statement condemning human rights violations in Iran, the EU joined Persian Gulf Arab states in calling for a quick resolution to the UAE-Iran dispute about the three Persian Gulf islands, which was immediately followed by fishing boat seizers by UAE and Qatar, he adds. These actions prompted the Islamic Republic to conclude that the EU has cooled its relations with Iran and has moved closer to the US, he says. (Maryam Ahmadi).