Friday, March 23, 2007

Perspective: Sailing in stormy waters

The seizure of 15 British marines and sailors by Iranian forces just outside the disputed waters of Shatt al-Arab yesterday could be, as their commodore said, a simple mistake. Or it could be something more sinister. But whether by accident or by design, the incident adds yet another potent ingredient to the explosive mixture of factors that make our dealings with Iran so dangerous. On the eve of a UN security council vote to tighten the sanctions regime over Iran's refusal to stop enriching uranium, there is now what looks like a hostage crisis.

The last time six marines and two sailors were seized by the Iranians in that narrow waterway, in June 2004, the mood music was more benign. Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, had been shuttling back and forth to Tehran. A deal hammered out by the troika of EU countries - Britain, France and Germany - to freeze enrichment in return for European technology and trade was about to fall apart. But there still lingered the hope that the policy of constructive engagement could work. The captured British servicemen were paraded blindfold and made to apologise on Iranian television, but they were soon released.

This time round there are two US carrier groups in the Gulf.

Read the rest at the Guardian