TEHRAN (IPS) — Whether or not the 15 British Royal Marines in Iranian custody actually trespassed into the country’s territorial waters, the incident has provided Tehran with an opportunity to build up an image of a peaceful, non-aggressive nation set upon by Western predators.
”Tensions between Iran and the West are running quite high at the moment. The United States recently arrested Iranian diplomats in Iraq and is still holding them,” an analyst in Tehran pointed out to IPS while requesting anonymity.
Iran has taken care not to suggest exchanging the British marines, captured last Friday, for its diplomats who were alleged by the U.S. to be members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and involved in funding and arming Shi’a militias in Iraq.
”Iran is annoyed with Britain for allying with the U.S. against Iran and for its role in the new United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions on the Islamic Republic and so it is likely that Iran will try to retaliate by holding the British marines longer or even putting them on trial for espionage. The incident has provided a very good opportunity to get back at the West,” the analyst said.
So far, events seem to be going Tehran’s way with the 14 men and one woman having confessed to entering Iranian territorial waters illegally, according to the state-run Fars News Agency.
On Wednesday Tehran released a video which featured a relaxed female marine, Faye Turney, saying: ”Obviously we trespassed into their waters.” That contradicted the British military’s claims that its vessels were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Friday.
Turney went on to describe her captors as ”friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people.” Turney, the mother of a child, is likely to be set free in what could easily be another opportunity for Tehran to appear humanitarian.
The video was aired despite warnings by a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair that showing captives on TV would be a breach of the Geneva Conventions. The video was aired on the state-run Arabic language channel Al Alam, widely seen in the Middle East and on the Persian IRIB channel.
”The decision to air the video footage of the captured marines and sailors can be seen as a response to (British Foreign Secretary) Margaret Beckett’s announcement earlier of a freeze of government-to-government relations and trade. This is in fact a violation of Geneva Convention and by doing so, Iranians risk testing the limits of Western countries’ patience,” the analyst in Tehran said.
He added: ”Detention and trial of the detained marines in the present circumstances is a chance to give a good headache to Tony Blair’s government. A trial of the marines in Iran can make him answer to a lot of other questions from the British public, including Britain’s involvement in Iraq,” he added.
Meeting the British envoy to Tehran, Iranian foreign ministry director general for Western Europe, Ibrahim Rahimpour, expressed Iran’s concerns about escalation of tension in the region since occupation of Iraq and said Tehran has always exercised self-restraint in the face of border violations by the British troops (serving in Iraq), so far. Legal proceedings were underway by respective officials, Rahimpour was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) as saying.
A similar statement by Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in New York has added to the worries that the marines may be put on trial by Iran on charges of intentional trespassing and hence espionage.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said Sunday the new UNSC resolution against Iran violated the U.N. Charter and international laws and accused “certain powers” of exerting pressure on Iran to withdraw from its “legal and legitimate rights,” the Islamic Iranian News Agency reported.
“Such resolutions are not approved by the world public opinion,” Hosseini said and added that many countries and regional and international bodies do not support such resolutions. The UNSC decision to make the Islamic Republic suspend its peaceful nuclear program is clear violation of article 25 of the U.N. Charter, he said.
Cabinet spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham announced on Sunday Iran’s decision to partially suspend its cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Iranian Students News Agency reported.
Britain’s defense ministry said the marines and their craft were seized in the Shatt al-Arab, the waterway flowing into the Persian Gulf that marks the border between Iran and Iraq. But the dividing line in the waterway, known in Iran as the Arvand River, has long been disputed.