Confusion reigns about Iran’s claim that UK service personnel were captured in Iranian waters

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 — 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 — 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 — 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 — 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 — 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’…”;

Israeli press reports varied reactions to Arab Summit call

It’s no surprise that the Israelis are not overjoyed about the gift offered to them by the Arab Summit — normal relations, peace, in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 lines.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said this in a long interview with Haaretz published on Friday:
“Olmert opened the policy section of the interview with an optimistic declaration: ‘Gentlemen, I believe that in the next five years, it is possible to arrive at a comprehensive peace agreement with the Arab states and the Palestinians. That is the goal. That is the effort, the vision’.

Q: How do we get there?

‘With patience and with wisdom. The Palestinians are facing a historic junction at which they will have to decide whether they want to remain stuck in a corner of extreme fundamentalism, which will cut them off from the entire world, or whether they are ready to take the necessary steps. My role is to assist in building this process’.

This week Olmert hosted the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He rejected ideas of making rapid progress in negotiations with the Palestinians, of a shortcut to the final-status settlement, and committed himself only to biweekly meetings with the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), at which confidence-building measures will be discussed. Rice had hoped to leave Jerusalem with a dramatic declaration on the revival of the peace process, but had to make do with a lukewarm statement.

‘There was no real disagreement between us and the Americans’, the prime minister explains. ‘There were very interesting and very productive discussions. All told, we said that there is no point in a bypass route, and that we have to confront the Palestinians and oblige them to fulfill commitments. That holds true also for Gilad Shalit. Abu Mazen promised he would not form a government if Shalit was not released. He told me that, he told Condi Rice that in my presence, he told [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel that. It’s impossible to go on like this: Everything they commit to – to stop the terrorism, to fight terrorism, all these things … How can you believe them when they don’t fulfill anything?’

Q: And you believe that one day they will undergo a transformation and start to fight terrorism?

‘If they don’t transform themselves, don’t fight terrorism and don’t fulfill any of their other commitments, they will continue to live in never-ending chaos’.

Q: But then demography will defeat us. Only a year ago you warned that it endangers the future of Zionism.

‘At that time my role was to try to generate momentum in a different direction.’

Olmert believes that various factors in the past year – the Second Lebanon War, the growing fear of Iran, and extremism – have pushed Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, into a different perception of the regional reality. ‘A bloc of states is emerging that understands that they may have been wrong to think that Israel is the world’s greatest problem, and that maybe it is worthwhile to reach an understanding that includes acceptance of Israel’s existence,’ he says. ‘I very much hope that the conference of Arab states will contribute to this.’

The prime minister praises Saudi King Abdullah for his involvement, speaks favorably about the ‘Saudi initiative’ and expresses reservations about the ‘Arab initiative’ that cites UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which calls for the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes.

‘I’ve referred positively to the Saudi initiative, which is something that prime ministers before me were not willing to say. I do not agree with every detail; it’s not that I accept the initiative and tomorrow will be ready to sit down and sign an agreement. There are interesting ideas there, and we are ready to hold discussions and hear from the Saudis about their approach and to tell them about ours’, Olmert says, adding that he’ll be happy to participate in a regional conference that will support Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

‘In my [November 2006] speech at [Kibbutz] Sde Boker, I said far-reaching things, to which the whole world paid attention, and they are the conceptual underpinning around which the moves are also being conducted now’.

Why is Shalit’s release stuck?

‘Because it turns out that Abu Mazen cannot fulfill his commitment, and the conditions that Hamas is presenting are creating a gap that cannot be closed at this stage.’

Q: Do you confirm reports from the Arab side about major progress in the contacts?

‘The reports from the Arab side are intended to bring pressure to bear on us, and they are very inaccurate.’

Q: Should [jailed Fatah leader] Marwan Barghouti expect an early release?


Q: He is not part of the exchange?


Why not?

‘I think the reasons are perfectly clear’.

Olmert is convinced that he has to continue the dialogue with Abbas. ‘I do not know anyone else among the Palestinians with status and authority who is preferable as an interlocutor’, the prime minister says. ‘After all, he is a person whom it is pleasant to meet with and talk to, very intelligent, and in his basic positions he is showing understanding that is approaching the foundation on which a political process can be constructed. There are two problems with him. One is that the stream he represents is a minority in the Palestinian state [sic], and the second is that he is not in control of the governmental machinery in a way that enables him to put into practice his approach against the other elements’.

‘Those who are calling for a boycott of Abu Mazen’, Olmert continues, ‘who do not want to maintain connections with anyone, are those who in the end want the way of war, blood, fire, confrontation – and we have already tried this, in all its aspects. We want to maintain the possibility of dialogue. But it is completely clear that we will not be able to accept the continued firing of Qassam rockets [from the Gaza Strip] indefinitely’.

Q: You have been saying that for a year already, and they continue to be fired. Just this morning eight rockets were fired into the Negev.

‘During that year, until November, we were quite active’.

Q: It didn’t help.

‘It didn’t help when we acted, and therefore the fact that we are not acting now is not the reason that Qassams are being fired. We are not ignoring this question. This is not the situation that existed in southern Lebanon, where for six years there were people in Israel who said things gotten rusty. I am not saying that. Every day I look at what is happening there. We are making an effort to mobilize the international community to prevent the smuggling. We are making a great effort so that a Palestinian force will be created that will prevent the smuggling and the terrorist operations’.

Q: The Israel Defense Forces is calling for a large-scale operation in Gaza, before Hamas gets any stronger. What is your opinion?

‘We have time before getting to a military operation. That is not the first thing I am looking to do. Qassams were fired even when we were in Gaza and carried out large-scale operations. We can’t get a solution just by pressing a button’.

Q: What about the evacuation of the illegal settler outposts? Since the demolition of the houses in Amona more than a year ago, not even a shack has been evacuated.

‘That is true, apart from what was evacuated today in Homesh. That was, I think, a clear signal. Israel, in the final analysis, will evacuate the illegal outposts. It has to be part of a process in which the Palestinians fulfill their commitments. [That] will facilitate things for us, too.’

Here, Olmert is changing the policy of his predecessor in office, Ariel Sharon, who demanded that there be a distinction between the handling of the outpost question and the dialogue with the Palestinians, and portrayed the evacuation as fulfillment of a personal promise he made to U.S. President George Bush. Olmert prefers to make evacuation of the outposts conditional on the Palestinian battle against terrorism.

Q: Did you miss an opportunity to renew the talks with the Syrians?

‘I want to make peace with Syria. Unequivocally. But we all know – and the Palestinian experience also shows us – that there is a disparity between declarations and a credible process, which can also bring about a correct outcome. It is not enough for someone to make a vague declaration through some court journalist. I want to arrive at the possibility of peace with the Syrians, and when I believe that the conditions are right, I will not miss the opportunity’.

Q: What are those conditions?

Olmert is mysterious: ‘Conditions that make negotiations possible, and everyone with any experience of negotiations with the Syrians knows about them’.”

Reuters is reporting that Israel’s elder statesman and deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, told Reuters Television that Israel, the Palestinians and the Arabs should sit down together and negotiate,
‘otherwise, I’m afraid, we shall go in a vain debate that will lead nowhere’.

Haaretz reported in another story that: “Israel’s official response, released in a statement by the Foreign Ministry in coordination with the Prime Minister’s Bureau, was lukewarm. It ignored the content of the Riyadh resolution and focused on the call by the moderate Arab nations to enter a dialogue with Israel. ‘Israel believes in peace, and seeks to establish peaceful and neighborly relations both with the Palestinian people and with all the states of the region’, the Foreign Ministry statement said.
‘Israel is sincerely interested in pursuing a dialogue with those Arab states that desire peace with Israel, this in order to promote a process of normalization and cooperation. Israel hopes that the Riyadh Summit will contribute to this effort. Israel’s position with regard to the peace process with the Palestinians is founded upon fundamental principles, the most central of which is the existence of two nation-states, with each state addressing the national aspirations of its own people – Israel for the Jewish people and Palestine for the Palestinian people – and with both states coexisting in peace, free from the threat of terrorism and violence. For this purpose, a direct dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians is necessary’.

The statement added: ‘Israel also believes that moderate Arab states can fill a positive role by encouraging regional cooperation, and supporting the Israel-Palestinian track. A dialogue between these states and Israel can contribute to this end’.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Thursday during a meeting called to discuss the Riyadh summit that Israel should derive satisfaction that the Arab consensus adopted the principle of ending the conflict and normalization with Israel.

According to Peretz, Israel will make a mistake if it ignores the Arab initiative, which should be seen as a basis for negotiations on a permanent status agreement with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Participants at the meeting warned that a lack of response by Israel to the Riyadh conference might ratchet up international pressure and lead to the blaming of Israel for a freeze in the diplomatic process, which might deny it the freedom to act diplomatically and militarily.

Deputy Premier Shimon Peres called on the Arab states ‘to sit together with Israel and achieve an agreement, as we did with Egypt and Jordan. Unilateral declarations, in which each side presents its positions, will not achieve anything’, Peres said.”

There was also a U.S. reaction to a statement made by the Arab Summit’s host, saying that the U.S. occupation of Iraq was “illegal”, as the Associated Press reports: “The White House, in a rare public retort Thursday, rejected the king’s characterization of U.S. troops in Iraq as an ‘illegitimate foreign occupation’, saying the United States was not in Iraq illegally. ‘The United States and Saudi Arabia have a close and cooperative relationship on a wide range of issues’, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. ‘And when it comes to the coalition forces being in Iraq, we are there under the UN Security Council resolutions and at the invitation of the Iraqi people’. ‘We disagree with them’, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told senators. ‘We were a little surprised to see those remarks’.
The king made his remarks Wednesday at the opening session of the two-day Arab summit his country hosted in Riyadh. It was believed to be the first time the king publicly expressed that opinion. ‘In beloved Iraq, blood is flowing between brothers, in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and abhorrent sectarianism threatens a civil war’, said Abdullah, whose country is a U.S. ally that quietly aided the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. A Saudi official said the king was speaking as the president of the summit and his remarks reflected general frustration with the ‘patchwork’ job the Americans were doing to end violence in Iraq. The king also wanted to send a message that Iraq is an issue that Arabs cannot turn their back on, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. It was not clear what kind of diplomatic fallout could result — but the comments did nothing to help bring Arab nations closer to the government of Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. The summit has taken a tough line on Iraq, demanding it change its constitution and military to include more Sunnis and end a program of uprooting former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. The Sunni-led governments of the Arab world have long been suspicious of Iraq’s Shiite leadership, blaming it for fueling violence by discriminating against Sunni Arabs and accusing it of helping mainly Shiite Iran extend its influence in the region. Writers in some Arab media suggested before the summit that Saudi Arabia would seek solutions that would cater to U.S. interests. ‘The king’s remarks are the biggest proof that those accusations were false’, said Dawood al-Shirian, a Saudi analyst. ‘In the issue of Iraq, Saudi Arabia went far beyond most other Arab countries. It went beyond the details and right to the cause’. Al-Shirian said he expected other Arab countries to take Saudi Arabia’s lead in considering the presence of U.S. troops an illegal occupation. ‘If Saudi Arabia didn’t blame the occupation, the blame would fall on the Iraqis, who are victims. How can you blame the victim?’ he asked. The U.S. called its presence in Iraq an occupation until the June 2004 handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis. U.S. troops remained in Iraq with permission from the Iraqi government and a mandate from the United Nations. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal stood by the king’s remarks Thursday — and his defense had hints of the Arab nation’s attitude that the Shiite-led government doesn’t have the legitimacy to approve the U.S. presence. ‘If that country had chosen to have those troops, then it’s something else. But any military action that is not requested by a specific country — that is the definition of occupation’, al-Faisal told reporters.”;

Softer version: UN SC expresses “grave concern” about 15 UK marines and sailors

The Associated Press is reporting that “Britain took its case to the United Nations, asking the Security Council to ‘deplore’ Iranian actions and urge the immediate release of the prisoners. But after four hours of private talks, the 15-nation council opted for a softer statement that expressed ‘grave concern’ over Iran’s actions and called for an early resolution of the dispute … [Later] Britain said it was giving ‘serious consideration’ to a message from Iran that appears to propose a new condition for freeing 15 British navy personnel and ending the crisis over their capture without a ‘confrontation’. Britain’s Foreign Office told The Associated Press about the Iranian proposal late Thursday, after Britain failed to win UN support for a statement deploring Tehran’s seizure of the Britons off Iraq’s coast last week. ‘We can confirm that as reported in the Iranian media, that the Iranian government has sent a formal note to the British Embassy’, a spokeswoman said. ‘Such exchanges are always confidential but we are giving the message serious consideration and will soon respond formally to the Iranian government’. The spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with Foreign Office policy, refused to elaborate. Iran claims the British sailors and marines, part of a Royal Navy force patrolling the Persian Gulf for smugglers, were operating in its waters when captured last Friday. The incident came several months into the escalating standoff between Iran and the United Nations over Tehran’s nuclear program”.

On Friday, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s News Agency, IRNA, released the text of Iranian government’s letter to Britain:
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran presents its compliments to the British Embassy in Tehran and draws the attention of the latter to the following:
According to the information received from relevant authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran, two British naval vessels manned by 15 fully equipped crews trespassed on Iran’s territorial waters on 3 Farvardin 1386 (March 23, 2007). Since similar acts had taken place in the past and prior warning had been given against the repetition of such acts, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran protests strongly against this illegal act in violating Iranian territorial waters, emphasizes the respect for the rules and principles of international law concerning the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, underlines the responsibility of the British Government for the consequences of such violation, and calls for the guarantee to avoid the recurrence of such acts.
It will be appreciated if the esteemed embassy conveys this note to the relevant authorities of its government and informs this Ministry of any explanation in this regard.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the British Embassy the assurances of its highest considerations.”

UK: “Members of the Security Council deplore the continuing detention by the government of Iran of 15 (United Kingdom) naval personnel”

Wire services are reporting that
“Britain took its case to free its 15 sailors and marines held by Iran to the United Nations on Thursday, asking the Security Council to support a statement that would ‘deplore’ Tehran’s action and demand their immediate release. But Security Council diplomats said the brief press statement circulated by Britain’s UN Mission is likely to face problems from Russia and others because it says the Britons were ‘operating in Iraqi waters’ — a point that Iran contests…The British statement was to be discussed later Thursday at a closed-door meeting of the Security Council. The text circulated to the 14 other council members said: ‘Members of the Security Council deplore the continuing detention by the government of Iran of 15 (United Kingdom) naval personnel’. It added that the British crew was ‘operating in Iraqi waters as part of the Multinational Force-Iraq under a mandate from the Security Council under resolution 1723 and at the request of the government of Iraq’ and it called for their ‘immediate release’. A press statement is the weakest action the Security Council can take, but the statement must be approved by all council members. Diplomats said Britain was also weighing a stronger presidential statement, which unlike a press statement, is read at a formal Security Council meeting and becomes part of its official record. The council diplomats said informal discussion of the proposed British statement indicated the issue of where the incident took place raised problems for some council members, including Russia. Some members also want to hear the Iranian side, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private…[British Prime Minister Tony] Blair’s official spokesman said Britain wanted to resolve the crisis quickly and without having a
‘confrontation over this’. ‘We are not seeking to put Iran in a corner. We are simply saying, Please release the personnel who should not have been seized in the first place,’ said the spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.”

A report from Agence France Presse states that “Iran insists the group of sailors had entered its waters at six different points before they were arrested and Thursday demanded that Britain apologize. ‘The logical solution … is for the British authorities to accept the reality, present their apologies to the great Iranian people’, armed forces spokesman General Alireza Afshar was cited as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency. The head of Iran’s supreme national security council, Ali Larijani, earlier said the only woman captive, Faye Turney, would not be released because of Britain’s
‘incorrect’ attitude. ‘It was announced that a woman in the group would be freed, but [this development] was met with an incorrect attitude. Naturally, [the release] will be suspended and it will not take place’, Larijani said on state television.
His announcement came a day after London said it was freezing ties with Tehran and despite the intervention of UN chief Ban. Larijani, who is also Iran’s chief negotiator in its nuclear dispute with Western powers, threatened to pursue a ‘legal path’ in the crisis, which has sent oil prices to six-month highs. ‘Instead of sending a technical team to examine the problem, they kicked up a media storm, announced a freeze in relations and spoke about the Security Council. That will not resolve the problem. They have miscalculated’, said Larijani.”

Despite Britain’s assertion, apparently backed up by a statement from the Iraqi Foreign Minister, that the service personnel were apprehended in Iraqi territorial waters, experts on international boundaries and maritime delimitation say the situation is not so clear.

The Scotsman newspaper reported today that: “The boarding party from HMS Cornwall was seized after completing a routine search of an Indian-flagged cargo ship. Vice-Admiral Style said the ship’s master had confirmed his position was 29 degrees 50.36 minutes North, 048 degrees 43.08 minutes East, placing the vessel well within Iraqi waters, where it remained at anchor.
The Ministry of Defence also released a picture of a global positioning satellite device in HMS Cornwall’s Lynx helicopter as it overflew the ship, confirming its position. Vice-Admiral Style said that coalition forces backed by the Iraqi navy had carried out 66 such boardings in the northern Gulf since March – four of them in the same area as the Royal Navy party were seized – without incident. He said interviews with the Lynx [helicopter] crew, which was in the air at the time, and the master of the cargo ship indicated they had been ‘ambushed’ by Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats.
A senior officer said it had taken the two Iranian patrol boats – equipped with machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades – three minutes to reach them from the coast. In contrast, the boarding party had only SA80 assault rifles and sidearms.”

The [U.S.] Marine Corps Times posted an AP story on its news page that reports that “British officials have said the 15 Britons were taken captive after completing a search of a civilian ship near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which forms the border between Iran and Iraq. In London, Vice Adm. Charles Style said the British boats were seized at 29 degrees 50.36 minutes north latitude and 48 degrees 43.08 minutes east longitude. He said that position had been confirmed by an Indian-flagged merchant ship boarded by the sailors and marines. But the position, outside the waterway in the Gulf, is an area where no legal boundary exists, leaving it unclear whose territory it lies in, said Kaiyan Kaikobad, author of The Shatt al-Arab Boundary Question. ‘What we do have is a de facto state-practiced boundary — a line both countries have been observing on the spot’, he said. ‘The problem is that though the British have drawn a line where they claim the de facto line is, we haven’t seen an Iranian version’.”

One e-mail today in an exchange between members of an academic international boundaries group stated that “The iranian version of the arrest position even as corrected may still fall on the seaward side of the baseline where the disagreement could indeed involve a disputed border, so what we may ultimately be looking at here in this dispute about the arrest position could be a question of whether it will be necessary to entertain a border dispute.”

What is clear, however, is that the British service personnel should be released.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting from Vienna that “The United States and key allies are pressing the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency to find Iran in violation of its commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty over Tehran’s refusal to allow remote monitoring of its underground uranium enrichment plant, diplomats said Thursday. The International Atomic Energy Agency — the UN monitor — has itself increased the pressure on Tehran, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because their information was confidential. The diplomats, who are accredited or otherwise linked to the agency, told The Associated Press that a senior IAEA official recently told the Iranians to respond positively to an agency request for additional cameras at the Natanz enrichment site by the end of this week. At issue is Teheran’s refusal to allow comprehensive monitoring of its expanding enrichment program at the underground facility at Natanz, where it has linked up hundreds of centrifuges. Although enriched uranium can serve as the fissile core of nuclear weapons, Iran insists it wants the technology only to generate power.
In a February report to the IAEA’s 35-nation board and the U.N. Security Council — which has imposed sanctions because of Tehran’s refusal to freeze enrichment — IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran ‘declined to agree’ to his agency’s call for remote monitoring, including cameras. A compromise was reached in which IAEA inspectors were allowed increased access to the plant, but the agency said that remote monitoring would have to be implemented once 500 centrifuges had been installed at Natanz. The agency’s request for a positive response on the part of Iran was made recently by Olli Heinonen, the IAEA deputy director general of the Iran file. Diplomats said he delivered it both in written form as well as verbally in stronger terms. It was unclear on Thursday whether Heinonen’s move was prompted by agency concerns that Iran was approaching the 500-centrifuge limit stated in ElBaradei’s report. While the number of centrifuges that are partially or totally assembled underground at Natanz is thought to have exceeded that number, some agency officials argue that the definition of 500 assembled centrifuges means that the machines are hooked up in series and running — although not necessarily enriching material — a stage that one Western diplomat said had not yet been reached. Still, the United States, the strongest proponent of tough sanctions against Iran for its nuclear defiance, was already sounding out other board nations about their readiness to meet in special session to find Tehran in violation of agreements linked to the Nonproliferation Treaty because of its refusal to heed the agency request, the diplomats said. Agency experts were withholding judgment, pending examination of Iran’s agreements to see if its refusal to allow installation of extra cameras giving a full overview of its Natanz operations was a violation of the treaty, they said. A full picture of Natanz operations is important to the agency to be able to ascertain what grade of enriched uranium the plant will be producing if and when the Iranians decide to start production of such material. Low-level enriched uranium is used to generate power — which Iran asserts is its only goal. But with minor modifications, such plants can also churn out weapons-grade uranium as part of a nuclear arms program.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister arrives in Riyadh for Arab Summit — a first?

The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting News Network is reporting that the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has now arrived in Riyadh for the Arab Summit. He was apparently invited only on Sunday.

“Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, heading a political delegation, arrived in Riyadh early Wednesday to attend the 19th Arab League summit in the Saudi capital. The two-day summit, opening Wednesday, is scheduled to discuss crises in Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine. Iran’s nuclear program will also be among topics to be reviewed by the participants in the summit. Leaders and senior officials from 23 Arab and Islamic states as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana are taking part in the two-day summit. Foreign ministers of China, Russia and India are also attending the summit. Libya is the only Arab state that is not participating in the summit.”

This must be the first time ever that an Iranian minister will have been invited to an Arab Summit.

This is now confirmed in an AP story about a report on CNN’s Turkish Channel:
“…Iran’s foreign minister said meanwhile a female British sailor held captive by Iran may be released later Wednesday or on Thursday, a Turkish TV station reported.
‘The woman soldier is free either today or tomorrow’, CNN-Turk television quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying on the sidelines of an Arab summit meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia…On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the woman, identified as sailor Faye Turney, 26, had been given privacy…”

In addition to seeing whether or not there will be any greater movement on the possible liberation of all these British marines and sailors, it will be interesting to see if there is any movement on the Iran-Iraq border in the Shatt Al-Arab (where, despite Saddam’s having torn up the 1975 Algiers-brokered agreement with the Shah, the thalweg or mid-point line in the water is still recognized as the boundary, according to international law experts).

It will also be interesting to see if there is any movement on the long-standing dispute over three islands (Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb) in the Persian Gulf that the United Arab Emirates and Iran both claim. Iran administers all three Islands. At one point, the British recognized Iranian control of these Islands, but that seems to have changed. The Greater and Lesser Tunbs are located 20km from an Iranian Island, and are in an important sea lane in the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil supply passes. Abu Musa seems to be almost mid-way between Iran and the U.A.E.

And, of course, it will be interesting to see if there are any takers on Iran’s proposal for a Persian Gulf regional consortium on fuel production for peaceful nuclear energy (Iran says the facility should be located in Iran), or on regional security arrangements.

The EU ‘High Representative’ Javier Solana is also in Riyadh for the Arab Summit, so there will surely be contacts about the new offer for ‘talks to see if there is a basis for negotiations”.

UN SG BAN Ki-MOON is accompanied by Under Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe, the highest-ranking American in the UN System, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia until taking up his UN post.

SHATT AL-ARAB or ARVAND ROOD – A reasonable explanation of confusion

Here is an excerpt from an AP story that explains why there is confusion about the maritime border between Iraq and Iran near the Shatt al-Arab / Arvand Rood:

Iran’s border muddles captivity issue
“A 1937 treaty gave Iraq [under British mandate until 1932, then Britain reinvaded for a couple of months in 1941] full rights to most of the Shatt al-Arab and fixed the border on the Iranian shore. Iran resented the terms, maintaining it accepted them only under pressure from the British. Lingering bitterness over the treaty may have influenced last week’s Iranian action. ‘The fact that British forces were involved made the (latest) incident especially sensitive for Iran’,” says Simon Henderson of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. ‘Iran resented this display of British dominance’. Iran scrapped the border pact in 1969. Four years later, Algeria mediated another deal setting the border in the middle of the river’s most navigable channel. The river splits into a multi-channel delta as it nears the Gulf. But Saddam Hussein tore up that treaty in 1980 and invaded Iran, setting off a bloody eight-year war. Although the war ended without a formal peace treaty, both Iraq and Iran have generally accepted that the border runs down the middle of the main channel. But the channel shifts due to silting. Because the two countries have not agreed on updated charts, that means there is no universal agreement on exactly where the border line runs. If the seizure occurred near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab — which is likely — the issue becomes even more complicated because Iraq and Iran have never agreed on each others’ claim to Gulf waters near the mouth of the waterway. Without such an agreement, international law requires countries not to extend their territorial waters ‘beyond the median line with neighboring states’, said Martin Pratt of the University of Durham in Britain. But defining that line is difficult because of conflicting claims to rock formations, sandbars and barrier islands in the shallow waters of the northern Gulf, Pratt said. As a result, there may be ‘legitimate grounds for arguing for a different definition’ of those median lines, Pratt said. ‘Until a boundary is agreed, you could only be certain that the personnel were in Iraqi territorial waters if they were within 12 miles of the (Iraqi) coast and, at the same time, more than 12 miles from any island, spit, bar or sand bank claimed by Iran’, said Craig Murray, former chief of the Maritime Section of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That means ships operating near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, where marshes and sandbars make navigation difficult and where ‘ownership’ of the water is ambiguous — could easily run into trouble. ‘There’s a lot of room for making mischief, if that’s what you want to do’, Schofield said.”

Iran in a tight spot

Nobody dislikes and distrusts Iran as much as the Arab neighbors. Rhetoric from the Iraqi leadership during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war was convincing proof, in case there was any doubt.

Now, however, there is a report — mentioned so far only on the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (most of the Iranian media is either not publishing or on a very reduced output, due to the Now Roz or New Year holidays, which are being celebrated from 21 March to 3 April) — that Iran’s Foreign Minister has been invited to attend the Riyadh Arab Summit meeting that opens in Tehran tomorrow:

Mottaki to attend Riyadh summit

“Iranian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sayed Mohammad Hosseini announced on Monday that Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is scheduled to attend the Arab Heads of State Summit in Riyadh on Wednesday. He noted that Mottaki heading a high-ranking delegation will arrive in the Saudi capital of Riyadh before the summit.
A preliminary meeting opened in Riyadh at the ministerial level today. Latest developments in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia and Darfur as well as IRI’s nuclear issue will be high on the agenda of talks. The summit will be attended by the heads of 18 Arab and islamic states. Meanwhile, some Arab countries, including Qatar, Oman and Somalia will dispatch their Prime Ministers to the summit”.

This is pretty astonishing news, if true.

The story suggests that the invitation was issued after the UN Security Council unanimous vote, on 24 March, to tighten sanctions against Iran. This could mean that Iran’s Arab neighbors (a) now see the situation as very volatile and dangerous and / or (b) they feel a surge of sympathy for Iran because they believe the UN Security Council action was somehow unjust.

Qatar is a member of the UN Security Council, and they voted for the resolution too.

Meanwhile, the high-profile R. Nicholas Burns has been in Brussels since the Security Council vote — from where EU “High Representative” Javier Solana has been trying to reach Iran’s present top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani on the phone.
Immediately after the vote, the Foreign Ministers of the UN Security Council’s five Permanent Members (US, Russia, China, France, and Britain) plus Solana issued a statement saying they would try to open talks with Iran about holding eventual negotiations. It is not clear whether there can even be talks at this stage, though this is an offer Iran can hardly refuse. Today, it is reported, Solana managed to talk to Larijani for nearly an hour, but no agreement was reached — except to stay in touch.

If Iran’s Foreign Minister is received at the Arab Summit, it will be interesting to see if there is any movement on the Iran-Iraq border in the Shatt Al-Arab (where, despite Saddam’s having torn up the 1975 Algiers-brokered agreement with the Shah, the thalweg or mid-point line in the water is still recognized as the boundary, according to international law experts).

It will also be interesting to see if there is any movement on the long-standing dispute over three islands that the United Arab Emirates claims in the Persian Gulf.

And, of course, it will be interesting to see if there are any takers on Iran’s proposal for a Persian Gulf regional consortium on fuel production for peaceful nuclear energy (Iran says the facility should be located in Iran), or on regional security arrangements.

And, although the U.S. has been playing down the Iranian capture of 15 British marines and sailors, the U.S. military activities in the Persian Gulf have taken a much higher profile. And — though only in response to a (planted?) question from a journalist, a U.S. State Department spokesman said in today’s briefing that these British service personnel were operating under a UN mandate:

State Department briefing 27 March 2007

“MR. CASEY: Well, I think as we’ve said, this was — this action was a violation of international law. The British forces were operating as we understand it in Iraqi territorial waters. As such, they were doing so under mandates provided by the United Nations and so therefore the seizing of them by the Iranian forces and the Iranian Government is an illegal act.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

MR. CASEY: I don’t have any characterization beyond it. My understanding from our legal people is that the best way to describe this is it’s a violation of
international law.

QUESTION: A follow-up — well related. U.S. News is reporting that in September, I guess a group of Iraqi soldiers being advised by U.S. soldiers engaged Iranians near the border, but within Iraqi territory. Has the State Department raised this issue before with Iran?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think in terms of any specific military actions in Iraq, you frankly have to go talk to the folks on the ground in Baghdad for that. In terms of our overall view of Iranian activities in Iraq, I think we’ve made those quite clear. Certainly, the Iranian Government is involved in — the Iranians, excuse me, are involved in providing materials for EFPs [roadside bombs] as you’ve heard from our military officials there. We certainly see Iranian support for various militia groups as well. And as the President said, we’ll
certainly do whatever is required to protect our troops by making sure we deal with any threats inside Iraq to our troops from whatever nationalities the
people involved are.”

SG BAN – “Who appointed him to boycott an elected prime minister?”

An article in Haaretz today, entitled “A dangerous masked ball“, by the excellent journalist and writer Gideon Levy, asks why UN SG BAN feels compelled to go along with Israel’s boycott of the Hamas Prime Minister who is an integral part of the new Palestinian “national unity” government:

“The rules of decorum are binding: Welcome – to the U.S. Secretary of State and United Nations secretary-general, who have come here, and to the German chancellor, who is due next week. But the rules of logic are no less binding, and we must ask: So, why have you come?

All three have declared that they are coming here to further a solution. But this whole show, we must tell them, is no more than a ridiculous masked ball: In their pointless and fruitless visits, they only perpetuate and entrench the conflict that most threatens world peace.

The fact that all three boycott the elected Palestinian prime minister predetermines that there is no chance for progress. This blind trio is looking in the wrong place. If they really wished to contribute, they would have to do two things: meet with Ismail Haniyeh and pressure him to recognize Israel, and meet with Ehud Olmert and pressure him to put an end to the occupation. Without these two elements – nothing will move forward.

It is hard to understand how once again Israel manages to coerce the international community to dance to its tune. After it dragged the world into a futile boycott of Yasser Arafat, it now drags them into a boycott of Haniyeh, and thus only serves the desired aim of the government, which holds the key to ending the conflict: to reject any negotiations.

Europe and the United States must understand that the Palestinian unity government has created a partner. They must also understand that it is impossible to make peace with half the leadership and that it is precisely the presence of Hamas in the government that will ensure that every solution reached can be implemented.

Boycotting the elected prime minister only because this is what the rejectionist front in Israel and Washington want is an act of folly. A visit to the Palestinian Authority while boycotting the prime minister is pointless.

Democracy is an exalted value for the United States. Yet, when the PA became the only place in the Arab world in which free elections were held, the rest of the world turned its back on it. What does the world wish to signal to the Palestinians? That elections are a just mechanism, but only if the results are predetermined? This is a blatantly anti-democratic message for the budding Palestinian democracy. It is also a negative message with respect to nonviolence: Hamas, which adopted a cease-fire, is not receiving any political return.

If it is possible to understand this boycott visit of Condoleezza Rice, the mother of the boycott doctrine, and also perhaps that of Angela Merkel, whose country needs to tread carefully concerning its policies vis-a-vis Israel – it is impossible to understand the boycott on the part of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Who appointed him to boycott an elected prime minister? Was there a decision by the UN General Assembly that the world should boycott the unity government? Is this how an honest broker behaves?

It is no less revolting that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is playing along with this charade. If he were a leader of some standing, he would tell his guests: “Ahlan wa sahlan [welcome] – but no boycotts.” And he would say: I also have an intense debate with my prime minister, but that argument needs to be settled with dialogue, not by boycott. You wish to meet with me? Then also meet with Haniyeh. You want to invite me to Washington? Then include my senior partner.

In the absence of a courageous stance, Abbas appears to be a weak leader. Perhaps not a chick, but surely a puppet – just like Israel and the U.S. wish him to be.

This is all the more true regarding the economic boycott. Those who want to see political progress need also to seek improvement in the inhuman living conditions in the territories. The world has to dull the pain of the occupation. By preventing aid to the Palestinians, the boycotters become full-fledged accomplices to the injustice of the Israeli occupation. An ostracizing world cannot make any demands of Israel when it comes to occupation.

Israel should be the main interested party in ending the boycott. If it truly wished for peace, it should have welcomed the establishment of a unity government, and it should encourage world leaders to meet with its leadership. Whom does the boycott – which is pushing Hamas into the arms of Iran – serve? Not Israel and not the chances for peace.

Today, when the red carpets are being unrolled in Ramallah and Jerusalem, it has become clear: This is a dangerous masked ball”.

Rice, Bush, the World — and a Palestinian State

As we are awaiting momentus news from the Middle East, where many international heavy weights are assembled to try to make some progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, while Iraq is going to hell, here is an excerpt from a piece in the Washington Post last week, entitled Rice’s Mideast Minefield, by David Ignatius: “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is crossing a modest threshold in her efforts to mediate the Palestinian problem: She is signaling her willingness to meet with some members of the Hamas-backed ‘national unity government’, even though the Israelis have publicly opposed such a move. Rice doesn’t do anything impulsively, least of all jump into the world’s most intractable conflict. And the space she has opened between U.S. and Israeli positions is quite small. But as she prepares for another trip to the Middle East late this week, Rice is sending the message that despite the complications posed by the Palestinian unity government announced last weekend, she is pressing ahead with her diplomatic efforts to broker the creation of a Palestinian state
Since direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians are out [why, exactly?], Rice will adopt the mediator’s role of holding separate ‘parallel communications’ with both sides. (In Kissinger’s day, such meetings were known as ‘proximity talks’.) In these conversations, she will explore further what she calls the ‘political horizon’ for the Palestinian state. Specifically, she hopes to develop a common agenda of issues that need to be resolved for that state to exist. Her chief Palestinian counterpart, for now, will be Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is acceptable to Israel. Rice will discuss with Abbas and his advisers the tools that would allow a Palestinian state to function effectively. For example, she plans to explore how security might be maintained in a demilitarized Palestinian state — including the role that might be played by outside security forces, such as the European Union personnel who now act as monitors at checkpoints at Gaza’s border crossings with Egypt and Israel. A final item on Rice’s agenda will be steps to build solid governance in a future Palestinian state, including financial and technical support for ministries. To add some balance to her effort, Rice is urging Arab states to reanimate their offer of peace to Israel, as expressed in Saudi King Abdullah’s 2002 peace initiative. For example, Rice hopes the Arabs will discuss interim steps, such as ending hostile propaganda and exchanging trade missions and other low-level contacts. Rice’s argument, in essence, is that a broad Arab-Israeli engagement is necessary during efforts to solve the Palestinian issue, instead of as icing on the cake after a peace deal is concluded”.

Here are some excerpts from remarks made on Sunday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to journalists travelling with her in the Middle East, according to a transcript e-mailed by the State Department: “[T]o me, the most important thing is to lay the groundwork with each party, ultimately put them together, before you start forcing people to make negotiating positions known. Because once you get to that place — yes, maybe you’ll get there, but things also start to harden. And so my approach has been, I admit, careful. It’s been step by step. I’ve not been willing to try for the big bang. I don’t think that that’s where we are. I think there are a lot of moving pieces here. I think the Palestinian unity government was a new factor as of a month ago. And so to take the time to talk to the parties on the basis of the same questions and same issues I think is well worth the time, and that’s what I’m going to try to do. And I can’t promise you that I won’t have to do that again before we can even move the process even further forward. Because the question here isn’t speed; the question is trying to really move forward toward the establishment of a Palestinian state that uses all the tools that we have — the roadmap, if possible the Arab initiative, the — I continue to believe that one of the most important speeches of all time is the Sharon Herzliya speech [she means in 2003 or 2004] — the President’s various interactions with these leaders and the desire I think now across a broad range of both polities for a two-state solution.”

Perhaps a little-overstated about the Sharon speech … but he did reportedly say, the first time she came to Israel, “Nice legs” …

In talking with the journalists, Rice also said this about Bush: “We have had endless conversations and discussions about how to move forward. It is almost always –and you know I’m with the President a lot, and it is almost always a subject when we are together. When there wasn’t a national unity government, when one was about to be formed, after one was formed, how did that affect what we would do? What should we do about trying to encourage an Arab-Israeli horizon? He got on the telephone before I left to talk to leaders about it. He’s talked to European leaders about it, to Prime Minister Blair, to Chancellor Merkel. He is very, very involved in the development of how we’re going to go forward and he is actively engaging other leaders in doing this. At some point in time, if there is more for him to do, which I think there undoubtedly will be, I know he wants to do it because he’s very committed to trying to move this forward. He is, after all, the author of the two-state solution [yes, nobody before him ever mentioned it!] more than you will probably ever know because when he was putting that speech together, it was the President who insisted on being clear that we were talking about the formation of a Palestinian state and even clearer what it would be called. [yes, nobody ever called it Palestine before, not even the Palestinians in their 1988 Declaration of a State of Palestine]. So he’s very much the principal author of all of this”. [Nobody ever even thought of it before!]

But, if it works, we can let them think that it was Bush’s idea, can’t we?

Iran's Dilemma

Iranian officials now seem to know, but refuse to accept, that they now have to deal with the demands of the UN Security Council over and above — and separately from — any other consideration. Like it or not, this is their obligation as a UN member state.

This new situation was discussed at a public meeting in Geneva last week, which featured one of Iran’s nuclear intellectuals, and Iran’s former top nuclear negotiator, Seyed Hossein Mousavian.

In the photo below, Mousavian is second from left, participating in an panel discussion on 21 March at the Geneva Center for Security Policy:

Mousavian - second from left -- participating in panel discussion in Geneva on 21 March 2007

The world’s problem with Iran’s nuclear program, said Dr. Patricia Lewis of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) at a discussion in a Geneva think tank this week, “could be likened to a wife discovering that her husband had been less than honest with her about his time and activities, and that he has perhaps indeed been out with a number of different women. “It could all be perfectly innocent” Dr. Lewis said, But, believe me, Ambassador, it would take more than chocolates and flowers to make up to a wife who is feeling that way”.

Dr. Lewis was addressing Dr. Mousavian, who was also Iran’s former Ambassador to Germany and to the IAEA. He was in Geneva on 21 March, the first day of spring, which marks the beginning of Iran’s long Now Rooz (New Year) holidays, apparently specially only to address the audience assembled at the Geneva Center for Security Policy (GCSP).

In his public statement, Dr. Mousavian said that “Iran’s nuclear issue is unduly blown out of proportion and falsely presented as a proliferation challenge. The United States has tried hard to portray Iran’s case as an international security crisis, and because of the power it wields at the international level, Chapter VII label, that is: threat to international peace and security, was placed on Iran’s case in the Security Council”.

Instead, he said, “Iran’s nuclear issue is one that needs to be resolved through persuasion, cooperation and engagement”.

Mousavian, Deputy President for International Studies at Tehran’s Center for Strategic Research, was Iran’s chief nuclear spokesman, and worked closely with Hassan Rowhani, during the administration of the “reformist” President Mohammad Khatami, who preceeded the present President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Dr. Mousavian may not be officially affiliated with Iran’s nuclear dossier at the moment, but he maintains contacts with international think tanks and foreign policy and strategic experts from U.S., Europe, and Iran –and is reportedly still actively involved in nuclear discussions within Iran.

He said in the GCSP discussion that “When and if 5+1 gain Iran’ confidence, and negotiation would proceed in a mutually agreed direction, Iran should technically be able to demonstrate that it is under no time pressure to begin its commercial-scale enrichment for fabrication of nuclear fuel”.

In a later interview, he explained that “This for example can be an idea: If the negotiation can start with good faith in recognizing Iranian rights, and assuring Iran, then Iran can also show the signal of tolerance for time in order to reach commercial production, because Iran has enough time, and we can discuss with the partners, 5+1, to reach industrial scale in a phased approach”.

In March 2005, Iran apparently suggested to European negotiators that it might be willing to limit its number of cascaded centrifuges to 3000. But, in Geneva last week, Dr. Mousavian signalled, however, that Iran now intends to go ahead to reach industrial-scale production of (lightly) enriched uranium used to operate civilian nuclear power plants.

Once mastered, the same process could simply be extended to produce the highly-enriched uranium used in the production of nuclear weapons, which is apparently the cause of much international concern.

Iran’s uranium enrichment program is operating now only at a pilot scale, Dr. Mousavian said.

Asked about the doubts many have concerning the possibility of a future weapons program, Mousavian replied that “Iranians are only concerned about their rights, discrimination against Iran, and attempts to deprive Iran from their legitimate right. This is the basis for Iranian behavior”.

Iran’s right, as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to the full nuclear fuel cycle must be recognized, Dr. Mousavian said. It should not be a question of who takes the first step, he added. “Iran should take one step, 5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) at the same time simultaneously should take one step: 5+1 should recognize the right of Iran for fuel cycle in the framework of NPT, the exercise of the right with no discrimination, compared to any other NPT member — this is the step from 5+1. And Iranian side I believe should be cooperative with the IAEA, for transparency, for confidence-building measures, in the framework of international rules and regulations — (but) not beyond. Therefore the two parties should take two steps simultaneously and together”.

So far, he acknowledged, this proposal is not yet on the table.

During the meeting at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, Dr. Mousavian got an earful of reproaches about Iran’s position, along with some suggestions intended to be helpful.

Dr. Lewis said that Iran’s case highlighted some of the most difficult issues that must now be dealt with under the NPT: “the issue of intent, and the issue of peaceful purposes, and how do we ascertain purpose, and intent, in the international system”, she said.

“This has really been the crux of the matter vis-à-vis Iran. It was indeed the crux of the matter vis-a-vis Iraq. And, indeed, because of the lack of faith in the intent and purposes that were discovered as a result of what happened in ’91 — the discovery of a very near-nuclear-weapons fulfillment in that time — that led us up to war in 2003. And, make no mistake, we’re not at that stage now, perhaps, but we’re certainly at a very dangerous stage in this negotiation, and this discussion”, Dr. Lewis told the audience.

“One of the big problems is that, over a long period of time, Iran wasn’t completely honest with the IAEA”, Dr. Lewis added. “I’ll give you some examples:
According to the IAEA, Iran failed to declare, for example, that it had purchased natural uranium — 1,000 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride (UFX6), 400 kilograms of UF4, and 400 kilograms of uranium oxide (UO2), from China in 1991, and also that it was subsequently transferred for further processing. Iran didn’t declare those until February 2003. Iran also did not inform the IAEA of the use of the imported uranium in tests of its uranium conversion processes and associated production loss of nuclear material — again, acknowledged in February 2003. Again Iran failed to report that it had used some of that imported uranium fluoride to test centrifuges in the late 90s and early 2000s. And, in October 2003, Iran first admitted to introducing uranium hexafluroride into a centrifuge in 1999, and also into 19 such centrifuges in 2002, and failed to disclose the associated production of enriched and depleted uranium. Iran also did not declare to the Agency the existence of a pilot enrichment facility, and laser enrichment plants. Experiments at these sites included the use of sensitive nuclear material, and therefore Iran was obligated to report them to the IAEA, and did not do so. It also failed to report that it imported 50 kilograms of natural uranium metal, and it actually used some of this for use in laser isotope separation. These activities were acknowledged later in 2003. And, in terms of plutonium, Iran did not report to the IAEA that it had produced uranium dioxide targets, and irradiated them, and then separated the plutonium from the irradiated targets. It failed to report the production and transfer of waste associated with these activities, and that it had stored and processed irradiated targets. It however did admit this in later meetings with the IAEA, and that it had conducted the separation experiments”.

Dr. Lewis said that “None of these things, in their own right, mean that Iran is developing nuclear weapons — let’s be clear about that. There is no smoking gun. There is no absolute evidence that Iran is on a path to have nuclear weapons. The problem with this is that Iran is now in a trust-deficit, if you like”.

Dr. Mousavian replied that Iran had only signed an Additional Protocol, allowing more and more intrusive NPT inspections, in December 2003 – and was therefore not obliged to report these activities prior to that date.

In his prepared remarks, he had said that “Iran’s previous decision as to when and what nuclear activities to report have some political and legal dimensions, which can usefully be explored in due course, and in the context of both political history of Iran after the Islamic revolution, and its legal obligation under the IAEA status and Iran’s safeguards agreement”.

It is particularly galling to Iran that revelations about its nuclear program were revealed by the Mujahedeen-e Khalq in 2002.

In his statement to the UN Security Council in New York on Saturday after the unanimous vote to tighten sanctions first imposed on Iran last December, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki reproached the Council for its position during the Iran-Iraq war: “When Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, the Iranian FM said, this Security Council waited seven days to intervene, allowing Iraq to occupy 30,000 square kilometers of Iranian territories — and then asked only for a cessation of hostilities, but not for a withdrawal”. During that war, the Iranian Foreign Minister told the Security Council Saturday, the US, Germany, France and others on the Security Council supplied Saddam Hussein with military assistance, including materials that helped the development of chemical and biological weapons.

The Iranian Foreign Minister also told the Security Council on Saturday that “Iran has been saying time and time again, Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful”.

Another participant in last week’s conference in Geneva was Dr. Bruno Pellaud, former Deputy Director of the IAEA and now head of the Swiss Nuclear Forum. He said that the acquisition of the materials listed in Dr. Lewis’ remarks should indeed have been disclosed under Iran’s basic safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Dr. Pellaud said that in the IAEA only he and Hans Blix knew, in 1993, about Iran’s acquisition of the Chinese materials that Dr. Lewis described; Dr. Pellaud said that he had tried at the time to find out where and exactly what the materials were, and had several times asked the Chinese Ambassador. But China only became a member of the NPT in 1992, Dr. Pellaud said, and at the time China’s Ambassador denied these deliveries. Dr. Pellaud said that although Iran did not comply with its reporting obligation, he believed that this nevertheless did not signal the existence of a weapons program.

According to Dr. Pellaud, it was the Additional Protocol that Iran later concluded with the IAEA that obliged Iran to declare its uranium processing and the centrifuge cascades for uranium enrichment before going on-line – and Dr. Pellaud said, Iran had complied. (Iran later suspended implementation of the Additional Protocol after the IAEA referred Iran’s nuclear file to the UN Security Council, but Iranian officials have been offering to reconsider this position if the UN Security Council sends Iran’s file back to the IAEA.)

Dr. Lewis pointed out that referral to the Security Council “means that this has gone beyond just the NPT. This has gone beyond the IAEA and safeguards… It meant that it got the agreement of China and Russia. Now, remember, we have not been able to get agreement in the Security Council on Darfur, which most people would say is a given, but we have been able to get it on the issue of Iran’s suspending its activities – and I think that is very significant. We have to be prepared to understand that although this is indeed under Chapter VII, and indeed under article 41 – which doesn’t mean military action, it means economic sanctions – nonetheless it’s extremely serious that it has been adopted at this level”.

She said that she agreed, however, with Dr. Mousavian that “we do have a hypocritical situation within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And I do think this is part of the root of the problem”.

Dr. Lewis said she was referring both to the five officially-recognized nuclear powers (who also just happen to be the UN Security Council’s Permanent or P-5 – the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France and China), when she said that some of the legitimacy and the authority of these States within the NPT has been removed because they have committed themselves — in the 1995 extension conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and in the year 2000 for the review of the nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty — to complete elimination of nuclear weapons, in a step-by-step 13-step process, yet so little progress is made since that time by those nuclear weapons states”.

The case of North Korea also shows an inconsistent treatment, when “one of those states that was in the treaty in 1995 but has since withdrawn, or declares itself to have been withdrawn, then recently conducted a nuclear-weapon test” – and gets the bilaterial talks with the U.S. that it has said it wanted.

Negotiations must start, Dr. Pellaud agreed, and he said there is a basis for negotiations — it’s just a matter of who makes the first step, now. There is time, he agreed, because “we are not on the verge of Iran having nuclear weapons”.

Dr. Pellaud said it was regrettable that a dramatic proposal made by Iran in March 2005, to curtail its own civilian program, both enrichment and separation of plutonium, and to limit the number of its centrifuges to 3000, was ignored by the European negotiators at that time. “In private talks, the European negotiators told us very clearly that they were all waiting for the Iranian Presidential election in June 2005 and hoping that there would be a more accommodating president ”, Dr. Pellaud noted.

Then, he said, in August 2005, the EU 3 (Britain, France, and Germany) made a very attractive proposal, but at that time Iran refused to enter into negotiations. (This apparently was the offer to supply Iran with nuclear fuel – a proposal that Iran now insists it cannot accept because, from its experience of being under sanctions for nearly 30 years, it cannot have confidence that materials it has bought, and been promised, will ever be delivered. Therefore, Iran says, it must have its own fuel production on its own soil.)

Another participant, from the Pugwash Conferences organization, winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for its work opposing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, brought up a suggestion presented in Tehran last year that Iran consider signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), as confirmation of its declared intent never to develop nuclear weapons.

Just a few hours after the public discussion in Geneva, U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told a U.S. Senate Committee in Washington the U.S. will again (presumably at the UNSC meeting) repeat its offer for “direct discussions” – but only if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment program, which Iran still says it will not do. ”In the P5+1 context, the United States will reiterate the historic offer Secretary Rice first extended in June 2006 to engage in direct discussions with Iran ‘at any place and at any time’ – (but only) provided Iran completely, verifiably suspends its enrichment activities”.

Burns told the Senators — not once, but twice — that the U.S. — and indeed all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — do recognize Iran’s right to peaceful, civil nuclear technology under the NPT, but that Iran must cooperate with the IAEA. He he did not say that the U.S. accepts Iran’s right to its own nuclear fuel cycle production inside Iranian territory, which is Iran’s present bottom line.

However, Burns said that: (1) “Iran directly threatens vital U.S. interests in multiple arenas and through a variety of instruments”; (2) “Tehran has long-been the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and the regime was responsible for the deaths of scores of Americans in the 1980s and 1990s”; (3) “Recognizing Iran’s role as the central banker of global terrorism, the Departments of State and Treasury have enlisted foreign support in efforts to deny suspect Iranian individuals and entities access to funds”, and (4) “Finally, we have stationed two carrier battle groups in the Gulf to reassure our friends in the Arab world that it remains an area of vital importance to us and we have taken steps to counter the destructive activities of Iran in Iraq”.

After the Security Council vote on Saturday, Burns was elated. The Washington Post quoted him as saying: “We got more than we thought we were going to get’ in the resolution…”If Iran has Qatar, a Gulf Arab state; and Indonesia, a Muslim state; and South Africa, a leading member of the nonaligned movement, voting for these sanctions, Iran is in trouble internationally”.

The New York Times reported that Burns said: “We are trying to force a change in the actions and behavior of the Iranian government…And so the sanctions are immediately focused on the nuclear weapons research program, but we also are trying to limit the ability of Iran to be a disruptive and violent factor in Middle East politics”.

Reuters has reported that the Swiss have been working on an (informal) proposal, which is being “coordinated” with the IAEA, to defuse the present crisis. Reuters says that the idea is that the Iranians could run their centrifuge cascades “dry”, without injecting uranium gas. It reported that Iranian officials were “relatively positive”, but “wavering”, because they did not want to be seen to be caving in to American pressure.

The story also said that Swiss Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Ambuel had visited Tehran sometime in the past month, and that the Swiss had been “pushing” the idea, and had “discussed it repeatedly” with Iranian officials.

One reason that Iran does not want to stop the spinning of its centrifuge cascades is that some parts will inevitably break when the motion is stopped, and it will take a long time to replace and repair the parts, and re-calibrate the machines before they could be started up again. The advantage of a proposal to run the centrifuges dry would avoid this serious technical problem.

Melissa Fleming, an IAEA spokesperson, reached Friday on the phone in Vienna, said that it was a little bit too much to say that the Swiss and the IAEA were developing this proposal in coordination, but she said that the IAEA was aware that Switzerland was working with IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei’s proposal for a “Time-Out” as a possible way out of the current impasse, that would enable both sides to save face. But, she said, Dr. ElBaradei had left it up to countries to hammer out the details: “What does it mean for Iran to suspend? What does simultaneous mean?”

But, Fleming said, she was told it was “so top secret, and so sensitive,” that she couldn’t say much more.

South Africa, which presides over the UN Security Council for the month of March, tried to present an amendment to the draft resolution tabled this past week by the P5+1, which would incorporate Dr. Elbaradei’s “Time-Out” suggestion, but this was rejected out of hand. Iran’s Foreign Minister was in South Africa this week for consultations. U.S. Secretary of State called South African President Thabo Mbeki later in the week to urge him to vote in favor of the draft resolution. She succeeded — the vote was unanimous.