Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Iran - hostage crisis unresolved

Hostages - pawns in a game of political chess

Day 12 of the stand-off between Britain and Iran and the 15 sailors still remain captive. Threats and continued diplomacy have had little effect on the Iranian government to release the 14 men and one woman. The EU said on Friday “release the captives or face the consequences”. But so far there has been no more pressure on the Iranian regime other than a stepping up of the harsh words and rhetoric.
In video released by the Iranian authorities, so called confessions and other statements were made by some of those held. “We’ve been arrested in Iran, and our treatment has been very friendly. We’ve not been harmed at all” Nathan Summers, one of the captured sailors, said. And in an apparent 'confession' he said, “I’d like to apologize for entering your waters without permission”.
Matthew Chance, a senior international affairs correspondent for CNN, described the video releases as ‘Another propaganda salvo, another disturbing confession, probably made under duress.’

Videos were not the only ‘propaganda’ to emerge. Faye Turney, the only woman in the group, wrote three letters which were released by the Iranian authorities. In one letter she wrote, “I am writing to you as a British service person who has been sent to Iraq, sacrificed, due to the intervening policies of the Bush and Blair governments”. The reaction from many commentators and politicians was that the letter had been made under duress. It is of course unverifiable how much duress, if any, was made on Faye Turney. In a later part of the same letter, she adds that, “It is now our time to ask our governments to make a change to its oppressive behaviour towards other people”.

In Iran there have been anti-British protests. Hundreds rallied Friday shouting “Death to Britain” and “We condemn the British Invasion”. Hardliners were also seen protesting outside the British Embassy in Tehran holding placards calling for the sailors to be executed for spying.
Ahmed Khatami, a member of Iran’s Experts Assembly, added to the rhetoric emerging from Iran on Friday. At a meeting he said, “Britain must know that if it continues their bullying gestures they will have an expensive price to pay.” What price Britain might pay was unclear, but the anger building in the country was self evident. The cleric also said that the EU, the UN as well as the US should stay out of the diplomatic efforts, saying their interference would only complicate matters.

On day 9 of the crisis Margaret Beckett, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, said that “things had got a little quieter” which she regarded as a “good sign”. But speaking on Russian TV, the Iranian ambassador painted a different picture saying that procedures had already started to put the sailors on trial for espionage. Gholamreza Ansari also said the British military were considered to be “occupiers and invaders, and if the British government apologized for this mistake the problem could be solved on this level”. Messages coming from Iran were confused with no confirmation that any trial was imminent and with statements saying the Iranian government wanted the crisis solved in a “friendly and humane fashion”. The negotiations between the two countries were said to be continuing with a “diplomatic note” having been received by the British government. Margaret Beckett said that they had “returned a diplomatic note”.
In the war of words, President Bush also stepped in saying the hostages must be handed back immediately and described the detention as “inexcusable behaviour”. In Iran, Mahmoud Amedinejad condemned Britain for not apologizing. Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair said the situation might move to a “different phase” if the hostages were not released. The voices coming from London have avoided the talk of hostile or military action, however there have been comments coming from the US which point to a far more aggressive approach. John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN, was recently quoted as saying Iran needed “regime change”. Speaking on CNN, Bolton said pro-democracy movements in Iran needed more support. He said the hostage-taking was an attempt to “test weakness in Britain’s response”. He said he would “favour a military force” if Iran did not stop its development of a nuclear weapon as well as continuing to fund terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah. John Bolton described recent comments by the Saudi King as amounting to a “lack of gratitude” and added that it may come to a “time of reckoning”. King Abdullah had described the US presence in Iraq as being an “illegitimate occupation” that could lead to civil war enveloping the whole region [BBC].

The Detroit Post in its editorial Tuesday said that ignoring of sanctions “leads to the necessity for more aggressive action” as seen in Iraq. “Iran can’t be allowed to arm itself with nuclear weapons or take hostages” the editorial said, “By continuing down its current path, Iran is inviting strikes against its weapons-making facilities and perhaps even broader action”. The posturing by the US in the Gulf region with ongoing ‘war games’ may also raise tensions in Tehran. Rumours that a US missile had been fired at an Iranian ship sent oil prices to a new high of $66 a barrel, an indication of the volatility of the situation.

New video emerged Saturday which showed two more of the captured sailors. Both were shown in front of a naval chart with each of them ‘admitting’ their mistake of sailing into Iranian waters. The footage of Lieutenant Felix Carmen and Captain Chris Air was comfort to members of their families as they learned their sons were safe. But government officials criticized the use of the hostages for propaganda purposes saying it was “unacceptable”. Yet more footage emerged on Monday, day 11 of the crisis. The UK government said they “would not be swayed by stage-managed television broadcasts”. The sailors so far named are leading seaman Faye Turney, operator mechanic Nathan Summers, sailor Adam Sperry, Lieutenant Felix Carmen and Captain Chris Air. On Friday, Channel Four News named Danny Masterton, Paul Barton and Joe Tindell as being amongst those held by the Iranians, and today Sky News named a further two as being Arthur Batchelor and Mark Banks. Whilst Downing Street conducts “intense” diplomatic dialogue with Iran, Terry Waite, a former hostage himself, has offered to act as an intermediary. And as the Iranian authorities release more pictures of the captured sailors playing chess, the political manoeuvring continues with Tony Blair saying today that the “next 24 hours was critical” [CNN].

No comments: