Following research and a careful construction of the median line between the two charted coastlines, one academic specialist at the International Boundaries Research Unit of Durham University in the U.K. has posted an analysis, with a map, of the Iran-Iraq maritime boundary on this site:
The issue is also being hotly debated on this blog:
The author of this blog, Craig Murray, writes: “I might even know something about it myself, having been Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1989 to 1992, and having been personally responsible in the Embargo Surveillance Centre for getting individual real time clearance for the Royal Navy to board specific vessels in these waters. As I feared, Blair adopted the stupid and confrontational approach of publishing maps ignoring the boundary dispute, thus claiming a very blurred situation is crystal clear and the Iranians totally in the wrong. This has in turn notched the Iranians up another twist in their own spiral of intransigence and stupidity.
Both the British and the Iranian governments are milking this for maximum propaganda value and playing to their respective galleries. Neither has any real care at all for either the British captives or the thousands who could die in Iran and Basra if this gets out of hand…It is essential now for both sides to back down. No solution is possible if either side continues to insist that the other is completely in the wrong and they are completely in the right. And the first step towards finding a peaceful way out, is to acknowledge the self-evident truth that maritime boundaries are disputed and problematic in this area. Both sides can therefore accept that the other acted in good faith with regard to their view of where the boundary was. They can also accept that boats move about and all the coordinates given by either party were also in good faith. The captives should be immediately released and, to international acclamation, Iran and Iraq, which now are good neighbours, should appoint a joint panel of judges to arbitrate a maritime boundary and settle this boundary dispute.”
One comment on this post says: “if the Iranians dispute the line as drawn, why – when it was pointed out that their initial claim placed them on the wrong side of it – did they change their minds about where they had made the capture?”
Craig Murray replies to another comment that: “the boundary drawn by the British MOD is a boundary that could be justified under the criteria of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. It would be perfectly possible to draw several other boundaries that might also be justified by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea … [W]ere I an Iranian negotiator … I would certainly argue, given the greater eastward projection of the Iranian coast, that the British proposed boundary line needs to shift south west. Quite simply, this is not an obvious median line. Finally, arguments regarding tide lines and sands become ultra complex haggling points in practice in negotiations. We cannot presume their outcome”.
At another point he says: “Maritime boundaries don’t appear by magic. They are enshrined in treaties, judgements or arbitrations and registered with the UN”.
And, he writes, “drawing a median line is as much an art as a science, especially in an area where the sands shift rather dramatically. Even if both sides to a negotiation agreed on a strict median line approach, I am pretty sure in these waters they would have plenty to argue about…There is nothing outlandish about a maritime boundary dispute. Even twelve years ago when we did UK/Ireland, we had to leave little stretches that could not be resolved. And we were using median lines – they are not nearly as simple as you seem to think. Look at US/Canada, or Norway/Greenland, or scores of others … It is beyond dispute that a primary purpose of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is to prevent unwarranted interference with merchant shipping. By insisting on our [U.K.’s]right to interfere with shipping right up to our obstinate view of what the boundary (to which we are not a party) should be, we are being very provocative. What we should be saying to Iran is ‘We did not intend to leave Iraqi territorial waters. We acknowledge that boundaries in this part of the Persian Gulf are yet to be finally settled and the area is subject to dispute. No offence or intrusion was intended. We would support any moves by Iraq and Iran to reach a definitive maritime boundary agreement”.
[Iran is apparently not a signatory to the Law of the Sea Convention, but as Craig Murray and posters on his blog seem to agree, the Law of the Sea has in some respects become customary international law — and in any case Iran could choose a negotiating strategy based on the Law of the Sea without necessarily being a signatory or State Party to that treaty]On this blog, another commenter poses questions about the British Lynx helicopter that was overhead before and after the British service personnel were taken into custody: “The Lynx helicopter gave ‘top cover’ then for some reason whilst the boarders were still at work returned leaving their colleagues exposed. The MOD vrief is silent on this merely saying that after the incident the Lynx was sent over and checked the GSP reference of the anchored vessels and provided a handy snap[shot] to almost prove it. Why the Missing Lynx – these are seasoned boarding parties, this is a routine stop and search and the aircraft giving cover was withdrawn. The MOD brief is silent withdrawn but Mark Urban on Newsnight said it had a need to re-fuel”.
And a comment read elsewhere asked what the main British ship HMS Cornwall was doing when its boarding party was rounded up.
Then, into this mess, wades today none other than the extremely well-financed and well-connected press and propaganda arm of the Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, who have been based in Iraq since sometime in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war.
They have apparently given a press conference in London today: “An Iranian opposition group claimed Saturday that Iran’s capture of 15 British sailors and marines was planned in advance and carried out in retaliation for the U.N. sanctions imposed against the country … The National Council of Resistance of Iran â€” the political wing of the Iranian MEK opposition group which is listed as a terrorist group by Britain, the U.S. and the European Union â€” said the British crew’s capture was planned in advance, but offered no evidence to support the claims…Hossein Abedini, a member of the opposition group’s foreign affairs committee, claimed the group had obtained information from sources within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard and had passed details to the British government. He did not provide any evidence or give further details.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it could not comment on Abedini’s allegation, or say if it had evidence the operation was pre-planned. A spokeswoman said the MEK was a banned organization under British anti-terrorism laws â€” meaning the government had no dealings with the group. Abedini told a London press conference that an Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval garrison had been on alert from the night before the kidnapping, to prepare for the operation. Mohammad Mohaddessin, who handles foreign affairs for the council, said in a statement that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had ordered the detention of the Britons in the hope of pressuring the British government over a threat to toughen U.N. sanctions…”
It should be noted that it is this same opposition group, the MEK, which leaked news about Iran’s nuclear porgram in 2002 that is the basis of UN Security Council sanctions imposed on Iran on 23 December, and tightened by a unanimous vote in the SC on 24 March.
The Associated Press’ well-informed George Jahn reported Friday from Vienna that: “Iran, in a confidential letter posted Friday on an internal Web site of the UN nuclear monitor, said its fear of attack from the U.S. and Israel prompted its decision to withhold information from the agency.
The IAEA, in response, urged Iran to reconsider, saying the decision would be in defiance of the monitor’s 35-nation board. Both the Iranian document and the confidential IAEA response were made available to The Associated Press…The IAEA also is waiting for Iran to respond to its requests to install remote cameras at key locations at Iran’s underground enrichment plant at Natanz. Negotiations over the IAEA request for additional cameras were scheduled for the weekend between senior Iranian and agency officials, a diplomat said Friday.
No enrichment is yet taking place at Natanz, but diplomats accredited to the IAEA said Friday it may start within days. If so, those cameras are crucial for IAEA experts in their efforts to monitor possible attempts to reconfigure machinery there into making weapons grade uranium â€” used in the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
Iran insists it wants to enrich only to low levels, suitable for generating nuclear power. But the international community increasingly fears that the country may want to develop enrichment for weapons uses.
Iran said Sunday it would no longer provide the IAEA with advance notice about any new nuclear facilities planned â€” a decision the government spokesman Gholan Hossein Elham said came in response to the “illegal and bullying resolution by (the) Security Council.”
Expanding on the decision, the confidential letter, dated March 29, declared that “the United States and the Israeli regime … are threatening the use of force and attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran and have repeatedly stressed that military action is an option on the table.
‘So long as such threats of military action persist, Iran has no option but (to) protect its security through all means possible, including protection of information which can facilitate openly stated and aggressive military objectives of the war mongers’, said the letter, signed by Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA. Blaming the IAEA for failing ‘systematically and repeatedly to maintain confidentiality of sensitive information’, Soltanieh wrote that ‘therefore such dangerous dissemination of sensitive information will have to be curtailed through steps which limit their scope and availability’. The agency, in response, noted in its Friday response that the move is ‘contrary to the board’s decision’ and suggested it may indirectly be in breach of agreements linked to the Nonproliferation Treaty.
Calling Iran’s decision ‘regrettable’, the agency, in a letter signed by a deputy of senior IAEA official Vilmos Cserveny, urged the Iranian authorities ‘to reconsider their decision’…” http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070330/ap_on_re_mi_ea/nuclear_iran;