"Since the end of the war a series of ineffective governments had done little to cope with the financial, political and economic difficulties caused by the presence of Allied troops in Persia, and there was little confidence in the ability of intention of the ruling class to improve the lot of the common people. But Persia was naturally affected by the world movement towards the improvement of bad conditions among Asiatic populations. The impact of this movement in Persia was particularly strong on the frustrated intelligentsia and on the factory workers....
It is difficult at the present moment to forsee in any detail the development of the political and economic situation in Persia."
Sir Francis Shepherd, British Ambassador to Persia, Dispatch # 360, to Foreign Office, 17th December 1950. In FO[Foreign Office]317/82313 [copy of the original in my possession].
"Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the current situation regarding the 15 British Service personnel, detained by Iranian forces on Friday of last week and that the Government is doing all it can to ensure that they are released immediately.
At approximately 0630 GMT on 23 March 15 British naval personnel from HMS Cornwall, engaged in a routine boarding operation of a merchant vessel in Iraqi territorial waters in support of Security Council Resolution 1723 and of the Government of Iraq, were seized by Iranian naval vessels.
HMS Cornwall was conducting routine maritime security operations as part of a Multi National Force coalition task force and operating under a United Nations Mandate at the request of the Iraqi government.
The boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when they and their two boats were surrounded by six Iranian vessels and escorted into Iranian territorial waters.
I immediately consulted with the Prime Minister and Secretary State for Defence and asked my Permanent Under Secretary to summon the Iranian Ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
On 24 March my colleague the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Lord Triesman, held a further meeting with the Ambassador to repeat our demands. He has had several such meetings since that date.
At that first meeting the Iranian Ambassador gave us, on behalf of his government, the co-ordinates of the site where that government claimed our personnel had been detained. They were NOT of course where we believed the incident took place but we took delivery of them as the statement of events of the government of Iran. On examination these co-ordinates, supplied by Iran, are themselves in Iraqi waters.
On Sunday 25 March I spoke to Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister, as I did again yesterday. In my first conversation I pointed out that not only did the co-ordinates for the incident as relayed by HMS Cornwall show that the incident took place 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters, but also that the grid co-ordinates for those incidents that the Iranian authorities had provided our Embassy on Friday 23 March and Lord Triesman on Saturday 24 March showed also that the incident had taken place in Iraqi waters. I suggested to the Iranian Foreign Minister that it appeared that the whole affair might have been a misunderstanding which could be resolved by immediate release.
In Iran, our Ambassador, Geoffrey Adams, has met on a daily basis with senior Iranian officials to press for immediate answers to our questions. He has left the Iranian authorities in no doubt that there is no justification for the Iranians to have taken the British Navy personnel into custody, and provided the grid co-ordinates of the incident which clearly showed that our personnel were in Iraqi waters and made clear that we expected their immediate and safe return. I should tell the House that we have no doubt either about the facts or about the legitimacy of our requirements.
When our Ambassador and my colleague Lord Triesman followed up with the Iranian authorities on Monday 25 March, we were provided with new, and I quote "corrected" grid co-ordinates by the Iranian side which now showed the incident as having taken place in Iranian waters. As I made clear to Foreign Minister Mottaki when I spoke to him yesterday, we find it impossible to believe, given the seriousness of the incident, that the Iranians could have made such a mistake with the original co-ordinates, which after all they gave us over several days.
The House may also be aware that, even if, and I stress that they were not, even if the Iranian government believed, our vessels had been in Iranian waters, under international law, warships have sovereign immunity in the territorial sea of other states. The very most Iran would have been entitled to do, if they considered that our boats were breaching the rules on innocent passage, would have been to require the ship to leave their territorial waters immediately.
Mr Speaker, we will continue to pursue vigorously our diplomatic efforts with the Iranians to press for the immediate release of our personnel and equipment. As members of the House will appreciate on sensitive issues like these, as with the recent Ethiopian case getting the balance right between private, but robust, diplomacy and meeting the House's and public's justified demand for reliable information is a difficult judgement. I am very grateful for the support we have been given over the last few days by the foreign affairs spokesmen of the other parties, and from yourself Mr Speaker as well as others in the House, and hope that this will continue.
But, as the Prime Minister, indicated yesterday we are now in a new phase of diplomatic activity. That is why MOD have today released details of the incident and why I have concluded that we need to focus all our bilateral efforts during this phase to resolution of this issue. We will, therefore be imposing a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran until this situation is resolved. We will keep other aspects of our policy towards Iran under close review and will continue to proceed carefully. But no one should be in any doubt about the seriousness with which we regard these events".
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, Speaking in the House of Commons, 28 March A. D. 2007 (in www.fco.gov.uk).
As I write these words, the UK government has taken the Persian act of piracy to the United Nation's Security Council. It appears that the Council will adopt a statement calling for the regime in Teheran to release the captured British sailors immediately (see: www.ft.com.lb). In addition the UK in the absence of any positive steps by the Persians will immediately ask that its EU partners, follows its lead, and freeze all economic ties with the Mullahs regime. So, in irony of ironies, the intemperate authorities (or I should say some of them) in Teheran, have perhaps, if this crisis is not resolved soon, manage to accomplish something which the United States has been unable to do for upwards ten years of trying: cut off the economic ties between the Persia and Europe (www.dailystar.com.lb).
What may one inquire, is the rationale (although one hesitates to use the rational[e and Persian in the same sentence...) for this latest instance of Persian mis-behavior? Simply put, it appears that the regime in Teheran, recently buffeted by various hammer blows on several fronts: one, the Russian shut-down of its nuclear co-operation with Teheran (see Pavel Podvig's article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in www.thebulletin.org); two, the United Nation's Security Council vote over the week-end to impose further sanctions on the Persia, over its nuclear programme. A vote which the Mullahs in Teheran denounced as: "spiteful and vicious" (see:www.cfr.org); three, even prior to the latest imposition of sanctions, both the de jure pre-existing UN sanctions, and, the de facto American sanctions are having an increasing effect on the economy as well as the psychology of the Persian regime(see:ft.com & www.cfr.org); four, the recent heavy reinforcement of American naval forces in the Gulf, merely reminds the Persian regime the futility of any attempt to close the straits of Hormuz, or interfere with tanker traffic in the Persian Gulf (one Persia's military weakness, see: Anthony Cordesman's writings on the subject in www.csis.org). Indeed, it is due to these slew of hammer blows being dealt to Persia, that the American analyst, Gary Samore recently commented in London
before the Royal Institute of International Affairs, that:
"Since the passage of UNSCR 1737 in December, however, the balance has begun to shift. To Tehran’s dismay, Moscow and Beijing [Peking] decided to support the Western strategy of incremental economic sanctions to pressure Iran [Persia} to suspend its enrichment program. Although 1737 did not impose significant sanctions against Iran, a number of private businesses have decided to limit their financial exposure in Iran. The new draft resolution – which was agreed to in record time by the P-5 – expands the existing sanctions (e.g. targeting financial sanctions against Bank Sepah and Revolutionary Guard Commanders) and hints at additional mandatory sanctions (e.g. arms embargo and ban on export credits) if Iran continues to defy the Security Council" (see:www.cfr.org).
In light of the above sequence of blows, it does not entirely surprise this observer that, that more primitive and 'hard-line' elements in the regime, around the Revolutionary Guards, and other elements loyal to President Ahmadinejad, have opted for a policy of va banque, by seizing the British sailors in Iraqi waters. The purpose of such an adventurous act being, that rather than Persia opting for a more conciliatory stance, in light of the pressures from abroad, Teheran must react in a volte-face fashion, on engage in a policy of pin pricks. And, in such a fashion, completely alienate any potential interlocutors abroad. Thus, of course scuppering any potential that the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany) with or without Russia and China, will be able to use friendly persuasion to coax Teheran to climb down from its isolated position over its nuclear programme.
What is the optimum or best policy in light of this Persian attitude? Simply put, the best policy is one of incremental increases in the pressures on the regime. Do not, follow Teheran by sharply increasing the pressures all at once. Much less do anything so foolhardy as to either rattle sabers much less use them. Rather, let the regime in Teheran dig its own grave. A regime a society, most of whose young people main ambition in life is to emigrate abroad, is fundamentally a weak one, not a strong one. As the economic pressures, grow, and as most especially the United States fails to leap at any Persian provocations, the end result is the in the normal course of events, Teheran will swallow its pride and engage in real negotiations over its nuclear programme. Inexorably, inevitably, the more moderate forces in the regime, will overcome the more dogmatic and rigid elements. It will not be an easy process, nor a quick one. However, it is a process which can and will result in Persia giving in without firing a shot. Hence it is by far the best policy overall to follow.