Saturday, March 31, 2007

Iran-Britain Crisis

Iran and Britain held extensive discussions throughout Friday and late into the night to resolve the crisis over the continued detention of British naval personnel. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters this morning that he had hoped “that something might have happened during the night” (AFP).

The Friday frenzy was a latest attempt to find a solution before the sailors and marines are tried and sentenced in an Iranian court. The possibility of an upcoming trial was reinforced this morning when IRNA (the official Iranian news agency) quoted Iran’s ambassador to Russia as telling a Russian TV station that the British sailors could be tried in Iran for violating international law. The ambassador, Gholam Reza Ansari, later retracted the comment.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told reporters this morning that “everybody regrets that this situation has arisen. What we want is a way out of it” (AFP).

Iranian intentions are not very clear. There are concerns that the hardliners might want to use this incident to gain politically. The November 1979 hostage crisis propelled the radical right into power and for many years kept the influence of the moderates and the reformists to a minimum.

The difference between the situation in 1979 and now, however, is enormous. Today the Persian Gulf is full of warships and warplanes. This time around, any miscalculations by the politicians could become very costly for Iran and for the detainees.

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