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Mar. 29, 2007
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// Iran Arrested British Sailors in Iraqi Waters
Britain's Defense Ministry presented evidence yesterday that the 15 British sailors and marines arrested by Iran last week were in Iraqi territorial waters when they were detained. At the core of the British claims are global positioning system (GPS) data and satellite photographs showing the vessels, which London believes should be sufficient to secure the release of its captured personnel and lay the matter to rest. Tehran, however, is clearly of a different opinion, although it has allowed Turkish diplomats access to the prisoners.
According to the GPS data published by the British Navy, although the British patrol boat was not far from the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which forms the southern border between Iraq and Iran, it was located 1.7 nautical miles (3.15 km) inside Iraqi territory when it encountered the Iranian patrol. At the time, the British patrol was on the lookout for smugglers under the mandate of United Nations Security Council resolution #1723. Immediately before the incident, the patrol's attention was attracted by a suspicious vessel that was believed to be transporting stolen automobiles. While the British personnel were engaged in inspecting the vessel, they were surrounded by several boatloads of Iranian sailors, who arrested the eight sailors and seven marines at gunpoint. According to British Vice Admiral Charles Style, the Britons were "ambushed" by the Iranian Navy, and their arrest was "unjustified and wrong."

The British Financial Times reported that London is building its case on the precise coordinates of the suspected smuggling vessel that the British sailors were inspecting when they were surrounded. Apparently, the vessel is still anchored at the same spot where it was left on Friday. According to a spokesman for the British government, it is hoped that the publication of the coordinates will convince the Iranian government of its mistake. To make sure that Tehran understands the seriousness of the situation, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett announced yesterday that London is suspending all bilateral ties with Tehran until the British personnel are released.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also had a go at turning up the heat on Iran. Mr. Blair said that if diplomacy fails, efforts to free the sailors could "take a different form," although when Iran called his statement "provocative," an official spokesman for the British government was obliged to apologize for Mr. Blair's remarks. According to the spokesman, Mr. Blair meant to say that negotiations with Iran "could be carried on differently." For example, London says that it did not go public earlier with information proving that the British personnel were in Iraqi waters because "we did not want to take the conflict to another level."

A military response to the crisis has also apparently not been ruled out. With an eye on Iran, the American 5th Fleet this week carried out a massive show of force with exercises in the Persian Gulf that involved the participation of the two aircraft carriers John C. Stennis and and numerous smaller vessels. "If there is strong presence, then it sends a clear message that you better be careful about trying to intimidate others," said Captain Bradley Johanson, the commander of the John C. Stennis.

It would clearly be to Iran's disadvantage to let the situation escalate any further. The Iranian authorities hinted that they understand this when they decided yesterday to allow the Turkish Foreign Ministry to have access to the captured Britons, even though they have continued to deny London's requests for access. As a member of NATO, Turkey is an ally of Great Britain. Sources in Tehran have also said that the British personnel will not be charged with espionage, which carries a death sentence in the Islamic Republic. The Britons are apparently being held at a Revolutionary Guards base in Tehran, where they will presumably be detained for another week or so before being deported from the country for illegally crossing Iran's border. The lone female sailor in the group "will be released today or tomorrow," said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki yesterday.

Alexander Reutov

All the Article in Russian as of Mar. 29, 2007

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