The detention of 15 British sailors by Iran and the unanimous approval of a UN Security Council resolution slapping new sanctions on Iran dominated the news coverage on Iran. Today, the British Prime Minister warned Iran of the start of a “different phase” if it did not immediately free the 15. On nuclear issue, the EU, supported by the permanent members of the Security Council, renewed its offer of suspending all the sanctions against Iran if the government suspended its uranium enrichment program. This to jumpstart installed negotiations for a final agreement on the nuclear program.
The tensions arising from the detention of the British sailors and Iran’s nuclear program increased dramatically today when the US Navy began its largest naval and air maneuvers and demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the invasion of Iraq.
The Detention of British Sailors
· British Prime Minister Tony Blair said today that Iran has to release the sailors; if not, he added, the confrontation “will move into a different phase.”
· Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran is questioning the British sailors and marines to determine if their alleged entry into Iranian waters was ''intentional or unintentional''; Hosseini’s comments were the first sign that Iran could be willing to release the detainees if their entry was deemed unintentional.
· A British government spokesman said that the UK will publish GPS records showing that the sailors were not in Iranian waters when detained.
· British Foreign Secretary Margaret Becket said the UK will continue to leave the door open for a constructive outcome; she urged Iran to quickly release 15 detained sailors; she also asked Tehran to allow British diplomats access to the detainees.
· Iran said today the 15 British sailors and marines it detained last week are healthy, have been treated in a humane manner and that the only female sailor among them had been given privacy; the foreign ministry spokesman said the sailors have been treated with humanitarian and moral behavior.
· Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called on Iran to release 15 British sailors; he told his Iranian counterpart in a phone conversation that the sailors were operating with the Iraqi government's consent when they were captured; an Iraqi government spokesman confirmed later that the capture took place in Iraqi waters.
· The crisis began when British sailors boarded an Indian-flagged commercial ship suspected of carrying smuggled cars through the Arvandrud; the captain of the Indian ship has reportedly provided a statement to Iraqi officials that his vessel was in Iraqi waters at the time it was stopped by the British; the Iranian Navy had announced that the 15 British navy personnel were detained for their illegal entry into Iranian territorial waters.
The US Naval and Air Maneuvers in the Persian Gulf
· The US Navy today began its largest maneuvers in the Persian Gulf since the invasion of Iraq; the war games involved two aircraft carrier strike groups backed by warplanes flying simulated attack maneuvers off the coast of Iran; more than 100 American warplanes were conducting simulated air warfare in the crowded Persian Gulf shipping lanes; the exercises involve more than 10,000 U.S. personnel on warships and aircraft making simulated attacks on enemy shipping with aircraft and ships, hunting enemy submarines and finding mines.
· US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had said earlier that the US has offered to help the British in any way it can to release the detained sailors.
Iran’s Nuclear Program
· The UN Security Council slapped new sanctions on Iran to pressure Tehran into suspending its nuclear program; the UN Security Council’s 15 members unanimously adopted Resolution 1747that broadens UN sanctions imposed on Iran in December; Qatar, Indonesia and South Africa joined the West in voting against the Islamic Republic.
· Today EU, backed by the six world powers, renewed its offer to Iran to start a new round of negotiations if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment program and the international community simultaneously suspends the sanctions against the country.
· Earlier the presidents of China and Russia in a joint statement had called on Iran to accept UN demands and to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
· Iran defiantly responded to the new UNSC resolution by limiting its cooperation with the nuclear watchdog agency, IAEA; the government announced that it would no longer inform the nuclear watchdog of new installations until six months before they are brought into service; Iran would now will not report future modifications at Natanz, where it aims to ultimately have over 50,000 centrifuges running.