Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Gulf 15

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced today that the 15 British sailors and marines who were captured in the Gulf last month are to be released "immediately". Speaking at a press conference to mark the Iranian New Year, he maintained the military personnel had "invaded" Iran's territorial waters and described their release as a "gift". Meanwhile, the Iranian state news agency Irna reported that an envoy was being given access to five Iranians detained by the US military in Iraq since January. This was done shortly after Mr. Ahmadinejad gave medals to the Iranian naval officers who had taken the 15 sailors.

This seems to be a happy ending. But as Phillip Jacobson stated in his article Chronicle of a Kidnapping Fortold “Iran's Supreme Leader warned publicly that the Islamic regime intended to retaliate in kind for "illegal measures" he claimed had been taken against Iran by the international community. In a tub-thumping speech to mark the Iranian New Year, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei electrified a crowd in Mashad with a defiant declaration that "we can also act against the law and we will do so". Some experts on Iran interpreted this as proof that Khamenei had already given the nod for a strike against the West in response to the international community's opposition to the controversial Iranian nuclear program. If this is true then a new angle to this how crisis is reveled.

So, if engagement instead of confrontation does indeed prove correct (let us wait till the news cameras show those sailors on British soil) then it could set a useful precedent. Moderates on both sides could then point to this crisis and accurately say that talks with the west can yield results, giving fresh impetus for negotiations on Iran’s nuclear plans.

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