RIA Novosti political commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Mar 28, 2007
There are many indications that in the past 12-13 months, Iran has been intentionally escalating the military tensions surrounding its nuclear program.
The rhetoric of the Iranian political and military elite has become much tougher; Tehran has been flexing its military muscle over the same issue, and has ostentatiously turned down the IAEA and UN Security Council proposals to return to the negotiating table in order to resolve the problem; and finally, the Iranian Navy captured 15 British sailors before the Security Council adopted its latest resolution on tougher sanctions against Tehran.
Many experts believe that Tehran unequivocally declared its claims to regional leadership after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in the summer of 2005. More than a year ago, he demanded that the world community recognize Iran as a "regional superpower." Positioning itself like this, Tehran placed its bets primarily on nuclear technologies, strong anti-Israeli rhetoric, and Arab support throughout the Middle East.
Tehran did not conceal its intention to reduce American prestige in Arab eyes, if not to oust the United States from the region altogether. It was convinced that the U.S. had gotten stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would not bother about Iran. This was an ideal chance to portray the Big Satan as a miserable paper tiger.
Tehran, however, has clearly overestimated its potential. Its anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric has failed to win the unreserved support from Arabs on which it counted. The U.S. has suddenly come up with a new strategy for the region that will no longer tolerate Iran's meddling in the affairs of its neighbors. Tehran cannot fail to see that the U.S. may use Iran's notorious nuclear dossier as a very good excuse for implementing the number-one goal of its strategy, all the more so as Washington is already planning to deploy four or five carrier-based attack groups in the Persian Gulf. This weighty argument should prompt Tehran to look for ways to back down, but how can it find them without ruining its image as a "regional superpower"?
Clearly, Iran has every reason to become a regional power, and the world would welcome this if only Tehran did not hit its neighbors' sore spots. Iran has every right to develop civilian nuclear power, and nobody is encroaching on that. But Tehran claims that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is based on the presumption of innocence, but in reality it is the other way around. Experts believe that the NPT is based on the assumption that nuclear weapons are bound to be developed if all of their components are there. This premise is based on a simple truth - man is weak, but the temptation is great. The world is not sure that Iran will resist this temptation because it has failed to explain properly to the IAEA why it wants to develop its own nuclear technologies.
Iran is a master of political maneuvering. Many experts have quoted the recent seizure of the Royal Navy personnel as an example. In its usual manner, Tehran has availed itself of an opportunity to escalate tensions. But this time, its maneuver has failed. For the first time ever, the Security Council has unanimously voted for tougher sanctions against Tehran. Maybe this will compel Iran to think whether it should rush into war.
earlier related report
Britain angrily condemned the images of the eight sailors and seven marines shown by Iranian television, in which the only woman among them apparently admitted that the group had trespassed into Iranian waters.
Iran said Faye Turney, 26, would soon be released but there was no easing of tensions between London and Tehran over the crisis now almost one week old.
The footage included pictures of Turney in a black headscarf, but also a letter she had written to her family.
The Britons were pictured having a meal, and Turney, the mother of a three-year-old girl, said: "Obviously we trespassed in the waters."
Iran has insisted the Britons were in Iranian waters when detained last Friday.
"They were friendly, very hospitable, very thoughtful. Nice people," she said of her captors.
In a letter to her family released by the Iranian embassy in London, Turney also said "I have written a letter to the Iranian people to apologise for us entering into their waters."
She ended: "Please don't worry about me. I'm staying strong. Hopefully it won't be long until I'm home to get ready for Molly's birthday party" -- a reference to her three-year-old daughter.
The report did not say when or where the footage was filmed and the authenticity of the letter could not immediately be confirmed.
An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman told AFP that Turney would be freed "within a day or two."
But Britain reacted angrily to the images. "It is completely unacceptable for these pictures to be shown on television," a Foreign Office spokesman told AFP in London.
"There is no doubt that all personnel were seized in Iraqi waters and were entitled to be there."
Amid mounting tensions, heightened by US navy exercises in the Gulf, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett announced the freeze in government-to-government contact in a statement to the British parliament.
"We need to focus all our bilateral efforts during this phase on the resolution of this issue," she said. "We will therefore be imposing a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran."
Britain also revealed evidence that it said showed the 15 were in Iraqi waters when detained.
Iran rejected this and played down Britain's decision to freeze contacts with Tehran, saying ties were already "cold and inactive," the official news agency IRNA quoted a foreign ministry source as saying.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair emphasised his country's determination in the dispute.
"It is now time to ratchet up the diplomatic and international pressure" on Tehran, Blair told lawmakers, adding that "there was no justification whatever" for the detention of the sailors.
"It was completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal," he said.
The prime minister said Britain was in contact with "all our key allies" over the dispute in order to "step up the pressure" on the Iranian government.
Speaking for the European Union, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Iran's action "unacceptable" and renewed a call for the soldiers' release.
"The British have our full solidarity here," she said.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also called for their immediate release.
The captives have been held at a secret location but Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia that diplomats from his country might be allowed access to them.
British military chiefs used maps and GPS coordinates to affirm that the navy personnel were 1.7 nautical miles (3.15 kilometres) within Iraqi waters at the northern end of the Gulf. It gave the coordinates as 29 degrees 50.36 minutes north and 48 degrees 43.08 minutes east.
The Iranian embassy in London insisted that the British personnel had "illegally entered" up to 500 metres (550 yards) within Iranian territorial waters.
But the embassy said it was "confident the two governments are capable of resolving this security case through their close contacts and cooperation."
London argues that the captured personnel were conducting "routine" anti-smuggling operations when they were seized at gunpoint.
There has been speculation that Tehran could use the British personnel either to trade for five Iranians being held by US forces in Iraq or for concessions over Iran's controversial nuclear programme.
Beckett said Wednesday that Iran had denied any such motivation.
The United States, which has already voiced "concern and outrage" over the incident, denied that an unusual exercise involving two US aircraft carrier strike groups in the Gulf was aimed at raising tensions with Iran.
Washington said it was to reassure friends and allies.
In New York meanwhile, oil prices surged to six-month highs as Britain froze ties with Iran and rumours grew of a possible military clash between the West and the Islamic Republic.
New York's main oil futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in May, jumped 1.15 dollars to close at 64.08 dollars a barrel.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Source: RIA Novosti
Source: Agence France-PresseEmail This ArticleThe Iran Crisis Deepens In Tit For Tat Responses
Wasghington (UPI) Mar 28, 2007
We have seen this movie before. One of the West's leading statesmen, and a powerful advocate for human rights, is deliberately humiliated by hostage-seizing Iranian radicals. Moreover, the Iranian radicals believe they can get away with it because they know perfectly well that the Western leaders are constrained by their own moral code to abide, as far as they can, by international law.
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