Assertive Iran Sends Uncle Sam a Message
By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2004; 9:20 AM
Iran's release of eight British sailors detained after their patrol boats strayed into Iranian territorial waters is just another chapter in a power struggle between the Islamic Republic and Western powers, according to online observers in both countries.
The eight men, detained Monday by Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Shatt al Arab waterway marking the border with Iraq, were released into British custody on Thursday, according to the Guardian of London.
In commentary, the sailors are seen as pawns in a geopolitical chess game between Iran, the largest country in the region, and the United States, the region's preeminent military power. At stake: Iran's influence over soon-to-be sovereign Iraq and the spread of nuclear weapons in the region.
British and Iranian officials had announced an agreement to release the men on Wednesday, but negotiations dragged on for 24 more hours. Since the Royal Navy team had already been paraded blindfolded on Iranian TV, the result was "[a]nother night in captivity for humiliated British troops," said Channel NewsAsia, Web site of the popular Asian TV network.
Indignation ran high in England. The Daily Mirror tabloid ran a picture of the blindfolded men under the banner headline, "Sickening." In Iran, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi downplayed British fears of a hostage crisis, saying if the men had gone into Iranian waters by accident they would be released.
The Financial Times quoted British officials as saying the agreement was a consequence of "careful, low-key diplomacy" led by Jack Straw, British foreign secretary, and Kharrazi.
The centrist London daily said, Foreign Office officials believe that "'megaphone diplomacy' involving forceful public criticism of the Iranians would have proved counterproductive. However elements in the Iranian government, backed by the conservative parliament, had been trying to make political capital out of the incident."
In the region, commentators say Iran was making a statement.
The Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon, said, "the Islamic Republic has sent a clear reminder to the international community of its military muscle and regional clout, especially in Iraqi affairs."
The Tehran Times portrayed the detention of British troops as an act of self-defense.
The generally conservative Web site in the Iranian capital justified the action by quoting a British parliamentarian, Menzies Campbell.
"One has to remember that they are pretty nervous in Tehran at the moment," Campbell was quoted as saying. "There are large numbers of American forces on their doorstep."
The British MP, according to the Times, also noted that Iran was part of George W. Bush's "axis of evil" and that there was "some loose talk on the fringes of the Bush administration at one stage, if there was success in Iraq then Iran might be next on their agenda."
In a piece for the conservative Daily Telegraph of London, military historian John Keegan, suggested that Iran, as the most modern Muslim country, was seeking to assert its interest in neighboring Iraq and defend its controversial nuclear program.
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