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BorderWatch:Iran
Archive: March 2007
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The Latest
Beckett Expresses "Regret" for Diplomatic Incident
03/31/2007 10:55 AM ET
Bremen, GERMANY: Britain's Foreign secretary Margaret Beckett speaks to journalists after posing for the Family Photo prior the second working session of the EU Foreign ministers informal meeting 31 March 2007 at the Park Hotel in Bremen.
GERARD CERLES/AFP/Getty
Bremen, GERMANY: Britain's Foreign secretary Margaret Beckett speaks to journalists after posing for the Family Photo prior the second working session of the EU Foreign ministers informal meeting 31 March 2007 at the Park Hotel in Bremen.

Tony Blair's government has sent a written letter in response to Iran's diplomatic note regarding the seizure of the 15 British sailors on March 23, the first such exchange since the beginning of the episode one week ago.

Foreign minister Margaret Beckett, speaking from the EU meeting in Germany on Saturday, said, "We have made our response and now we are beginning to discuss. As you may know it's a holiday period in Iran and that is perhaps not too helpful."

Though Beckett could not disclose the nature of the letter's contents, she did voice a public message expressing regret--though not apologizing for the incident.

"The message I want to send is that everyone regrets that this position has arisen. What we want is a way out of it, we want it peacefully and we want it as soon as possible. we would like to be told where our personnel are, we would like to be given access to them."

The British letter was in response to an Iranian message that reportedly asked for "necessary guarantees that violations against Iranian waters would not be repeated". But according to IRNA's account, the letter did not repeat the demand for an apology that has been a major obstacle to reolution of the crisis.

In other developments, though the Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Gholam-Reza Ansari has been widely reported as saying the sailors might be put to trial, on Saturday he dismissed the remarks attributed to him by a Russian television network, saying they'd mistranslated his comments about how the episode had moved into a "judicial form".

"Of course, if Britain accepted the illegal entry of its marine troops to Iran's waters and the relevant responsibility, the matter would have been easily solved by now," he told IRNA, Iran's state-run TV station.

Video
Brits Entering Second Week in Iranian Custody
03/30/2007 11:57 AM ET
Royal Navy Crewman Nathan Thomas Summers, as shown on Iranian televison on Friday.
Royal Navy Crewman Nathan Thomas Summers, as shown on Iranian televison on Friday.

Britain and Iran are in an increasingly tense stand-off over the capture and detention of 15 Royal Navy sailors. Iranian TV channel, Al Alam, on Friday aired a new video (below) showing one of 15 British detainees apologizing to the Iranian people for trespassing and "entering your waters without permission." Only hours later, Iran released a second letter allegedly written by another Royal Navy sailor, Leading Seaman Faye Turney, stating she had been "sacrificed" to the policies of the British and U.S. governments.

The British government has responded to the latest video by criticizing the treatment of the sailors and Royal Marines, with Prime Minister Tony Blair saying Iran faced "increasing isolation" for refusing to release the service personnel. There was no immediate reaction by the British government to the latest Turney letter.

Tehran, IRAN: Iranians chant anti-British slogans during a demonstration in support of the seizure of 15 British sailors and marines, after the weekly Friday Prayers in Tehran, 30 March 2007.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty
Tehran, IRAN: Iranians chant anti-British slogans during a demonstration in support of the seizure of 15 British sailors and marines, after the weekly Friday Prayers in Tehran, 30 March 2007.
International pressure on Iran is mounting. On Thursday, the UN Security Council expressed concern for the marines and sailors and appealed for the early release of the detainees. United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, is currently holding talks with Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, in Riyadh, with regard to the release of the British sailors.

Earlier Thursday, Iran claimed the British personnel entered its waters a total of six times before they were arrested. Iranian officials also announced that the promised release of Turney was suspended because of Britain's "behavior" in the matter.

"The wrong behavior of those who live in London caused the suspension," Iranian military commander Alireza Afshar said, according to the Mehr news agency.

Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Council, also warned that Britain's tough stance in the matter was causing a delay in the release of Turney and the other sailors.

In an analysis piece in the Detriot Free Press, Robert H Reid, opined: "To the Iranians, Britain's immediate appeal to the United Nations appeared the latest step in a Western campaign to isolate and humiliate Iran." A day after the Britons were seized, the Security Council voted unanimously to impose new sanctions on Iran for its uranium-enrichment program.

Reid cited Iran expert Saeed Laylaz as assessing, "Iran feels that it is blocked in diplomatic, economic and military fields." He predicted the country "will continue to use the case of the British sailors as a card to reduce pressure from the international community."

The British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, has insisted that Britain is keeping open all avenues of communication, including the "back-door channels". Kaveh L Afrasiabi of the Asia Times has speculated that the Turkish government will play a prominent mediator role in any future Iran- Britain detainee negotiations "given a growing expressed desire in Iran for a 'prisoners' exchange' and the fact that at least one, and perhaps as many as five, Iranians apprehended by the US were abducted in Turkey. Others, including some diplomats, were abducted from Iraq."

Several Iranian politicians have protested the alleged incursion by the British, including a powerful member of parliament (Majlis), Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who stated that London should not expect Iran to endure the violation of Iran's sovereignty without complaint.

Entrenched positions on both the British and Iranian sides may signal a lengthy standoff. This is particularly so in light of the economic pinch caused by the British government's freeze on bilateral trade with Iran (worth some US$2 billion).

Iran's hardline stance is, however, playing well in the Arab media. Afrasiabi goes on to write, "Arabs now see in Iran's 'heroic' standing up to 'Western imperialists' a source of much-needed inspiration and hope, in contrast to their own feckless leadership." A former Iranian diplomat told Afrasiabi that the Arabs in the Persian Gulf are now less inclined to back the US position against Iran than they were before the incident.


The Latest
Second "Letter" from Turney, in Iranian Custody
03/29/2007 4:48 PM ET
A second letter allegedly written by a UK sailor in Iranian custody has been broadcast on Iranian state television.

In the letter, the sailor calls for the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq, according to an al-Hurra report in Arabic, saying that "the time has come" for a UK withdrawal.

The first apparent letter from the UK sailor, Faye Turney, was broadcast yesterday on the Iranian state-run Arabic language station al-Alam, along with a video interview on the Iranian broadcaster al-Alam, and footage of the 14 other captives.

In the letter, Turney also wonders why the UK Parliament has not opened an investigation of the Blair government into the details of the sailors' capture, given that the UK had agreed to avoid such incidents of violation of Iranian waters, according to what the letter said.

The broadcaster did not specify the conditions under which the reported letter was written, or if it had been penned under duress.

Iranian officials had originally indicated that Turney would be released shortly, but then retreated from that statement.

No further details are available at this time.

Turney Release May Not Be Imminent, UK Refuses to Apologize
03/29/2007 09:44 AM ET
Faye Turney in a video broadcast on al-Alam TV March 28.
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
Faye Turney in a video broadcast on al-Alam TV March 28.

The possible release of British sailor Faye Turney remains uncertain on Thursday, as the UK refuses to bow to Iranian demands they admit wrongdoing and a breach of territorial water boundaries.

Though Turney's release seemed imminent just hours ago, Forbes is now reporting that the head of the Islamic Republic's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, has been quoted in the Iranian media as saying that the British had "resorted to creating tumult and clamor and putting pressure on Iran but this will bring them no result."

"If the British go along this path the case for freeing the British female sailor will run into problems,'' Larijani said.

On Wednesday, foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki had implied the detained sailors' release would be more likely if the UK admitted they had crossed into Iranian waters, but the AP reports an official with the Foreign Office in London has said no admission would be forthcoming because "the detention is completely wrong, illegal and unacceptable and we've set out the reasons why."

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has spoken with Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, about the situation on the sidelines of the Arab summit in Riyadh, though Ban's spokeswoman would not give details of the talks.

The UK has also asked the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condemning Iran's actions, demanding the sailors' release and stating that they had been in Iraqi waters at Iraqi request, operating under UN mandate. The UN body is expected to take up the issue on Thursday.

In response to British foreign minister Margaret Beckett announcing on Wednesday that the UK would suspend all bilateral relations with Iran, an Iranian official told the state-run news agency IRNA that "Tehran-London relations were already cold."

The US Navy ended its largest naval exercises in the Gulf since 2003 on Thursday, after two days of drills practicing anti-submarine, anti-surface and mine warfare maneuvers. The Fifth Fleet has said that the war games were scheduled within the last two weeks, and that planning was ramped up as tensions mounted over the detained British sailors.

Revolutionary Guard forces detained the fifteen British sailors off the HMS Cornwall on Friday, accusing the Royal Navy of entering Iranian territorial waters.

The specific coordinates of the incident are in dispute, as the Royal Navy says the Cornwall was inspecting an Iranian merchant ship in Iraqi territorial waters. The incident reportedly occurred in Shatt al-Arab waterway, which marks Iraq's southern border with Iran. The 120-mile waterway, which divides southwestern Iran from Iraq, has been disputed by both countries despite a 1975 treaty that recognized the middle of the waterway as an international border.

The British Ministry of Defence yesterday laid out exactly where it contends the sailors were seized, which would be almost two miles inside Iraqi waters. However, Iran maintains that the vessels were boarded in the waters at the mouth of the Arvand river.

The incident has created a diplomatic stand off, and accusations, denials, and veiled threats have been crossing back and forth since Friday.

The Latest
State-Run TV Reports Impending Release
03/29/2007 05:44 AM ET
Iran is preparing to release the only woman among fifteen captive British sailors and marines in a matter of “hours,” the Iranian foreign minister has said.

Al-Alam, the Iranian state-run Arabic language broadcaster which earlier transmitted footage of the 15 captive British sailors and an interview with Faye Turney, the woman sailor, reports online that the Iranian FM, Manouchehr Mottaki, made the announcement on the air in remarks to the channel.

In remarks to the Iranian broadcaster, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett welcomed the announcement of Turney’s impending release, and demanded the release of the remaining captives, Al-Alam reports in the same article in Arabic.

According to the report, Mottaki announced Iran’s two “steps” for the “resolution of the problem” concerning the detention of the remaining sailors and marines: The admission on the part of the British government that the soldiers had entered Iranian waters, and Iran’s completion of its investigation.

Al-Alam also reports that the British UN delegation had suggested that the Security Council express its support for London’s demand for an immediate release of the captives.

The South African UN ambassador, Domisani Kulamu the current Security Council president said that the UK had circulated a press statement, which would be discussed Thursday, in which it advocates for a condemnation of the capture and a call for the immediate release of the captives, Al-Alam reports.

The broadcaster also reports two other international calls for the sailors’ release: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, currently presiding over the EU, called for the release of the sailors and the acknowledgment that their capture was unacceptable, and Canadian foreign minister Peter Makay also asked Iran for the immediate release of the detainees, saying that the detention was unacceptable.

Watch It Here
One Interviewed Calls Captors "Very Compassionate"
03/28/2007 2:38 PM ET
Faye Turney in a video broadcast on al-Alam TV March 28.
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
Faye Turney in a video broadcast on al-Alam TV March 28.

Iranian state-run TV broadcast a segment on Wednesday showing the British soldiers at the center of the current diplomatic crisis, and the UK ambassador in Tehran was given a letter (reprinted below) purported to have been written by the lone female captive, Faye Turney.

As reported earlier on Slogger, Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki has said that Iran plans to release Turney either today or tomorrow.

The segment on Wednesday's evening news in Iran broadcast fleeting glimpses appearing to show UK personnnel being taken into custody and being fed while in detention, but the biggest part of the segment has Turney speaking. After identifying herself, Turney tells an unidentified person off-camera:

"I was arrested on Friday the 23rd of March. Obviously we trespassed into their waters. They were very friendly, very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we'd been arrested. There was no aggression, no hurt, no harm. They were very, very compassionate."

Also on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett announced that the UK would be suspending bilateral relations with Iran until the situation is resolved.

Dear Mum & Dad,

I am writing to you from Iran where I am being held. I will try to explain to you the best what has happened.

We were out in the boats when we were arrested by Iranian forces as we had apparently gone into Iranian waters.

I wish we hadn't because then I'd be home with you all right now. I am so sorry we did because I know we wouldn't be here now if we hadn't.

I want you all to know that I am well and safe. I am being well looked after. I am fed three meals a day and have a constant supply of fluids. The people are friendly and hospitable, very compassionate and warm.

I have written a letter to the Iranian people to apologize for us entering into their waters.

Please don't worry about me, I am staying strong. Hopefully it won't be long until I am home to get ready for Molly's birthday party with a present from the Iranian people.

Look after everyone for me, especially Adam and Molly. I love you all more than you will ever know.

All my love, Faye

The Latest
MoD Claims Proof Sailors Were in Iraqi Waters When Seized
03/28/2007 09:42 AM ET
London, United Kingdom: British Royal Navy Vice-Admiral Charles Style gives a press conference in London, 28 March 2007, presenting maps and global positioning system (GPS) data on the seizure of British 15 sailors and marines in the Gulf 23 March 2007.
Stefan Rousseau/AFP/Getty
London, United Kingdom: British Royal Navy Vice-Admiral Charles Style gives a press conference in London, 28 March 2007, presenting maps and global positioning system (GPS) data on the seizure of British 15 sailors and marines in the Gulf 23 March 2007.

The British Ministry of Defence today in London presented the coordinates of the two British vessels from which 15 British personnel were seized on Friday, evidence Vice Admiral Charles Style said proved the Royal Navy was "ambushed" while "well inside" Iraqi waters.

The location mapped by Styles was 1.7 nautical miles from the edge of Iranian waters, on the Iraqi side. Styles said the cited coordinates were given to the UK by Iran on Saturday, and confirmed by one of the vessels' GPS system. However, after being informed the location was clearly inside Iraqi water, Tehran apparently re-submitted new numbers that would place the vessels two miles inside Iranian waters.

Styles also said that the Royal Navy had sent a helicopter over the site of the incident, where the commercial ship the British sailors had been investigating when captured remains anchored. The UK Guardian quoted Styles as saying,

"The position was 29 degrees 50.36 minutes north, 048 degrees 43.08 minutes east. "This places her 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi territorial waters," Vice Admiral Style said.

In other developments, Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki has been reported as saying that Iran will release the one female sailor, Faye Turney, either today or tomorrow.

Turkish Prime Minister Recap Erdogan briefly met with Mottaki at the summit of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia. Erdogan told Turkish television that Mottaki agreed to allow Turkish diplomats access to the British sailors. Tony Blair's spokesman announced that the UK appreciates the development, but would continue to press for British consular access for its citizens.

Revolutionary Guard forces detained fifteen British sailors off the HMS Cornwall on Friday, accusing the Royal Navy of entering Iranian territorial waters. The specific coordinates of the incident are in dispute, as the Royal Navy says the Cornwall was inspecting an Iranian merchant ship in Iraqi territorial waters.

The incident reportedly occurred in Shatt al-Arab waterway, which marks Iraq's southern border with Iran. The 120-mile waterway, which divides southwestern Iran from Iraq, has been disputed by both countries despite a 1975 treaty that recognized the middle of the waterway as an international border.

The incident has created a diplomatic stand off, and accusations, denials, and veiled threats have been crossing back and forth since Friday.

Fifteen British Troops Entering Sixth Day in Iranian Custody
03/27/2007 3:18 PM ET
HMS Cornwall British military frigate on station in the Gulf.
UK Ministry of Defence/AFP/Getty
HMS Cornwall British military frigate on station in the Gulf.

The diplomatic row between the UK and Iran continued on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Tony Blair threatening to get tougher, and Iran maintaining they are acting in accordance of international law.

Revolutionary Guard forces detained fifteen British sailors off the HMS Cornwall on Friday, accusing the Royal Navy of entering Iranian territorial waters. The specific coordinates of the incident are in dispute, as the Royal Navy says the Cornwall was inspecting an Iranian merchant ship in Iraqi territorial waters.

The incident reportedly occurred in Shatt al-Arab waterway, which marks Iraq's southern border with Iran. The 120-mile waterway, which divides southwestern Iran from Iraq, has been disputed by both countries despite a 1975 treaty that recognized the middle of the waterway as an international border.

BLAIR WARNING

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said there was "no justification" for the capture of 15 British military personnel and warned Iran of a "different phase" if they weren't freed.

"What we are trying to do ... is to pursue this through the diplomatic channels and make the Iranian government understand these people have to be released and that there is absolutely no justification whatever for holding them," Blair said.

"They have to release them. If not, then this will move into a different phase," he told Britain's GMTV television.

The Financial Times has also reported the British government is preparing what it calls evidence proving its 15 military personnel captured by Iran's Revolutionary Guards were in Iraqi waters and not inside Iranian territory.

It has said it will go public with its proof if the eight sailors and seven Marines are not returned in the next few days.

IRANIAN RESPONSE

A decision on the British troops will not be made until the completion of an inquiry intended to determine whether the alleged incursion into Iranian territorial waters was "intentional or unintentional," according to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehzi Mostafavi on Monday.

On Tuesday, the official Iranian news agency, IRNA, reported that Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said British Embassy personnel would be allowed to meet with the soldiers after the inquiry had been completed, though he did not elaborate on when that might be.

Iran has also announced that the 15 British military personnel are in good health and have been treated humanely and added that privacy has been given to the female sailor.

"They are in completely good health. Rest assured that they have been treated with humanitarian and moral behavior," said Mohammad Ali Hosseini, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Associated Press, in Tehran.

------ ------

IRAQI FM CALL FOR RELEASE

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, has called for Iran to release the 15 British sailors and Marines. According to a statement, Zebari talked with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki yesterday, passing on the Iraqi government's official position that the Brits were taken from Iraqi waters, where they had been operating with consent of US-led coalition forces and the Iraqi government.

------ ------

US COMMANDER COMMENT

A senior American commander in the Persian Gulf told The Independent that, rather than letting themselves be taken hostage, those under his command would have fired on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, saying, "I don't want to second-guess the British after the fact but our rules of engagement allow a little more latitude. Our boarding team's training is a little bit more towards self-preservation."

----- -----

OIL

Oil prices rose as result of Friday's capture and ensuing diplomatic situation, before falling from the three-month high on hopes that the situation, as well as the disputed nuclear program, will be resolved with out disrupting oil supplies.

''It doesn't look like the situation will escalate anytime soon and any worries about Iran have already been priced in,'' said Eric Wittenauer, an energy analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in St. Louis, told Bloomberg. ''The geopolitical environment is still supporting prices but as time goes by some of the fear premium tends to melt away.''

---- ----

US NAVY WAR GAMES

Two aircraft carriers backed by warplanes flying simulated attack off the coast of Iran was part of the scene of the U.S. Navy's largest demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the invasion of Iraq.

The demonstration included maneuver includes two aircraft carriers, their strike groups, in addition to as many as 100 US war planes. According to the BBC, each US strike group incorporates an aircraft carrier, a submarine and four or five frigates or destroyers.

The exercises involve more than 10,000 US personnel on warships and aircraft making simulated attacks on enemy shipping with aircraft and ships, hunting enemy submarines and finding mines, the Associated Press reported.

US Navy Commander Kevin Aandahl, based with the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, across the Gulf from Iran, told the BBC: "What it should be seen as by Iran or anyone else is that it's for regional stability and security. These ships are just another demonstration of that. If there's a destabilizing effect, it's Iran's behaviour."

------- -------

LETTER

Meanwhile, Yedioth Ahronoth reported families of captured Israeli soldiers Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser sent a letter to the British Embassy in Israel to show their support for the 15 captured British soldiers.

"We recoiled at the thought that another 15 families have joined the circle of uncertainty that we have been part of for 9 months."

"Like your sons, our sons were abducted while on a mission serving their country. Like your sons, our sons have parents, brothers, wives and friends."

Full Report PDF
Live Fire Exchanged between Iranian Force, US-Iraqi Patrol
03/24/2007 09:00 AM ET
As Iran holds 15 British marines it claims had crossed into Iranian waters, a report has emerged that joint US-Iraqi forces exchanged live fire with Iranian troops six months ago in eastern Iraq.

Seven Iraqis were unaccounted for after the incident in September.

US News and World Report obtained an incident report from the US military describing the event. The full report is linked below.

On the afternoon of September 7th, the report says, an approaching joint border patrol of US and Iraqi forces observed two Iranian soldiers who ran from Iraqi territory back across the border into Iranian space. After this, the patrol came upon a single Iranian soldier on the Iraqi side of the border. The Iranian did not flee.

The joint patrol approached the soldier to speak with him. As they were addressing him, the patrol was approached by a “platoon-size element of Iranian soldiers,” according to the incident report.

An Iranian captain from the platoon said that the Iranians would fire on the US-Iraqi patrol if they tried to leave their location. As the two forces exchanged words, Iranian forces opened fire, “with small arms and RPG fire.”

The US-Iraq patrol reportedly returned fire, in order to “break contact,” and left the area to report the incident. As US forces withdrew, the Iranian contingent continued “to fire indirect fire well into Iraq,” whereas “for reasons unknown” Iraqi troops did not withdraw.

No US troops were injured in the incident, but seven Iraqis were unaccounted for after the exchange, according to the report.

USNWR notes that the Iranian forces may well have believed they were operating on Iranian soil, according to US officials. The incident report says that the joint US-Iraqi patrol was traveling on a road used before “without incident” by joint patrols. The report identifies the location as “about 75 miles east of Baghdad on the Iraq/Iran border,” and elsewhere says the group was operating “east of Balad Ruz” in eastern Diyala Province.

This is one in a series of hostilities exchanged by Iran and the Coalition powers. The UK has demanded that Iran return 15 British Marines who were apprehended by Iranian naval forces Friday. The UK insists its forces were operating in Iraqi waters, while Iran says the Marines were on the Iranian side of the border.

A recent report by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker says that the US is conducting special-operations missions in Iran, which have “intensified” of late:

According to current and former American intelligence and military officials, secret operations in Lebanon have been accompanied by clandestine operations targeting Iran. American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq.

The US also holds six Iranians, whom it says are affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Iran however, maintains that the facility in Irbil from which the men were captured enjoyed consular status and claims that the six men were in Iraq for diplomatic purposes.

As USNWR points out, the US picture of the Iranian military and intelligence apparatus may become clearer after the defection of a former Iranian defense official, Gen. Ali Rez Asgari, earlier in the month. He is said to be collaborating with Western intelligence officials. Iran has referred to the official’s disappearance as a kidnapping, and has threatened retaliation.

“Iran has enough people who can reach to the heart of Europe and kidnap Americans and Israelis,” Reza Faker, an Iranian columnist said to enjoy close ties with Iranian President Ahmadinejad wrote in Subhi Sadek, the Revolutionary Guard’s weekly, according to this week’s UK Sunday Times. Iran has alleged that several of its high-ranking officers have been kidnapped over the last three months.

The military's report of the September 2006 confrontation is available here: border_incident.pdf.

Iran Factor
Iran Says British Patrol Ship Trespassed Upon Iranian Waters
03/23/2007 6:35 PM ET
Basra, IRAQ: Iraqi coast guards patrol the waters off the Iranian Bou Chahr port in southern Iraq late 23 March 2007.
ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty
Basra, IRAQ: Iraqi coast guards patrol the waters off the Iranian Bou Chahr port in southern Iraq late 23 March 2007.

The capture of fifteen British sailors and marines by Iranian naval forces Friday is threatening to provoke a full-fledged diplomatic standoff between the U.K. and Iran.

The Guardian reports that the fifteen officers of the Royal Navy were captured at gunpoint while conducting a routine anti-smuggling operation near the Shatt al-Arab waterway. The operations are part of U.S.-British coalition efforts to safeguard the Iraqi border and are sanctioned by the United Nations.

British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett has demanded the immediate return of the officers and scheduled a meeting with Iran's ambassador, CNN reports.

A U.S. military spokesman said that Iranian forces had radioed a British warship to say that the British officers were unharmed, reports the AP. Iran's Foreign Ministry was silent until Friday evening, when state-run television ran a statement saying that the Britons had illegally crossed into Iran's waters, CNN reports. No information was given on where or how long they would be held.

The 120-mile waterway, which divides southwestern Iran from Iraq, has been disputed by both countries despite a 1975 treaty that recognized the middle of the waterway as an international border.

"A dispute ensued over whether the Marines were in Iraqi, international, or Iranian territorial waters, and the 15 were then seized and taken to Iran," a U.S. military official told CNN.

Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the U.S. Navy‘s Fifth Fleet said that coalition forces had been operating in the waterway for "a couple of years" and knew the boundary lines "very well," the AP reports.

The fifteen officers, sailing aboard the HMS Cornwall, boarded the ship Friday morning to conduct "a routine inspection of a merchant ship inside Iraqi territorial waters," the Guardian reports.

Time reports that the soldiers were captured by members of the Iraninan Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a special unit of the Iranian armed forces controlled directly by Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. The IRGC also commands the basij, a paramilitary unit that enforces public morality in Tehran's streets; and the Quds, which the U.S. has accused of supplying Iraqi insurgents.

The Revolutionary Guard, a militantly nationalist organization, has reportedly wrested control over Iran's petroleum industry in recent months; Time reports that it is now extending its control over other government functions, including management of the Tehran airport.

Friday's incident is the second of its kind. In 2004, Iranian forces captured eight British marines and sailors traveling in the waterway, "saying they had breached the maritime border," reports Time. The soldiers were released after three days of being paraded blindfolded on Iranian TV.

The timing of the incident is particularly sensitive, reports Time, given President Ahmadinejad's impending visit to the U.S., where he will defend Iran's nuclear program before the U.N. Security Council, reports Time.

Vali Nasr, a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells the AP that Friday's incident could be retaliation for the arrest of five Iranians - including a member of Revolutionary Guard - in a raid in Northern Iraq last January.

Time reports, the action could be Iran's way of reasserting its power in this sensitive border area, a former flashpoint in the Iran-Iraq war and now a potential smuggling corridor for Iraq insurgents.

A fisherman who witnessed Friday's incident told the AP: "Two boats, each with a crew of six to eight multinational forces, were searching Iraqi and Iranian boats Friday morning in Ras al-Beesha area in the northern entrance of the Arab Gulf, but big Iranian boats came and took the two boats with their crews to the Iranian waters."

Diplomatic Buzz
Claim HMS Cornwall Strayed Into Iranian Territorial Waters
03/23/2007 09:29 AM ET
BALTIYSK, RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Russian man cycles by HMS Cornwall British military frigate at the Russian Navy base of Baltiysk, 15 September 2004.
Stringer/AFP/Getty
BALTIYSK, RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Russian man cycles by HMS Cornwall British military frigate at the Russian Navy base of Baltiysk, 15 September 2004.

Iranian forces detained fifteen British sailors off the HMS Cornwall on Friday, accusing the Royal Navy of entering their territorial waters.

The incident reportedly occurred in Shatt al-Arab waterway, which marks Iraq's southern border with Iran. The specific coordinates of the incident are in dispute, as the Royal Navy says the Cornwall was inspecting an Iranian merchant ship in Iraqi territorial waters.

The UK Ministry of Defence released a statement:

"The group boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.

"We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level.

"The British government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment."

According to a US military source that spoke to CNN:

The Marines stopped an Iranian ship suspected of smuggling automobiles, and boarded it for an inspection.

While the Marines were on board, six Navy ships from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard showed up and claimed the British had entered Iranian waters.

A dispute ensued over whether the Marines were in Iraqi, international, or Iranian territorial waters, and the 15 were then seized and taken to Iran, the U.S. military official said.

In 2004, a similar incident occurred, and though the Iranian government grumbled about prosecuting, those sailors were released within days.

Stay tuned to Slogger as we track the developments on this story......

Iran Factor
Alireza Jafarzadeh Names Iraqi Badr Associates as Involved
03/20/2007 7:16 PM ET
NEW YORK - MARCH 20: Iranian dissident Alireza Jafarzadeh charges in a speech arranged by his consulting firm that Iraqi militias are training in secret camps in Iran March 20, 2007 at the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty
NEW YORK - MARCH 20: Iranian dissident Alireza Jafarzadeh charges in a speech arranged by his consulting firm that Iraqi militias are training in secret camps in Iran March 20, 2007 at the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York City.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been running militia training camps inside Iran for Iraqi Shi'ites, with the full knowledge of the government in Tehran, according to an opponent of the Iranian regime.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, an Iranian dissident who moved to the US to go to school in the 1970s, said he had been given the information by Iranian opposition groups, according to Reuters.

"Senior Iraqi officials are part of this network that is training Shi'ite militia groups in Iran who are then sent back to Iraq to escalate violence and target U.S. and coalition forces," Jafarzadeh said Tuesday afternoon at a press conference hosted by his consulting firm at the UN Millenium Plaza hotel.

Jafarzadeh specifically named Abu Ahmand Al-Ramisi, governor of Al-Muthanna province in Iraq, and Hadi Al-Ameri, head of the Iraqi National Assembly's Security Committee, both associates of the Badr Organization, the military wing of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's SCIRI party.

According to Jafarzadeh, "Over the past few months the Iranian regime has stepped up its efforts to destabilize Iraq and further escalate the violence there."

NEW YORK - MARCH 20: A map used by Iranian dissident Alireza Jafarzadeh in a speech arranged by his consulting firm purports to show secret Iraqi militia training camps in Iran.
Spencer Platt/Getty
NEW YORK - MARCH 20: A map used by Iranian dissident Alireza Jafarzadeh in a speech arranged by his consulting firm purports to show secret Iraqi militia training camps in Iran.

Trainees in the camps are reportedly instructed by Lebanese Hezbollah members and the Revolutionary Guard's Qods Force in how to use explosives, weapons, and methods of unconventional warfare.

Jafarzadeh has some credibility as a source of sensitive informtion regarding Iran, since in 2002 he exposed the existence of the nuclear faciliity at Natanz. Jafarzadeh also previously served as the spokesperson for the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Blogosphere
Letter From a "Mother" With Son Serving in Iraq Reads Like a Fake
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 03/20/2007 1:53 PM ET
Even a great number of American mothers who their sons were not sent to Iraq, are agree with me.
ATTA KENARE/AFP
Even a great number of American mothers who their sons were not sent to Iraq, are agree with me.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad loaded a fresh post onto his personal blog this week, purportedly his response to a letter written by the mother of a US soldier.

Either the "mother" is not a native English speaker, or the original letter was translated into Farsi and then poorly re-translated back, or the lettter is a complete fake--all possibilities, though the last option holds the greatest probability.

That would give one logical explanation for why the "American mother" lacks mastery of the English language. She writes, for example, "I am writing you this letter as a mother who her son was sent to Iraq forcibly and has been taken away from her for ever," and "Even a great number of American mothers who their sons were not sent to Iraq, are agree with me."

Complete letter with Ahmadinejad's complete response is below.

A Reply to an American Mother's Message 2007/03/16

Mr. President,

I am writing you this letter as a mother who her son was sent to Iraq forcibly and has been taken away from her for ever.

You may know it or not that most of the Americans do not like Bush. He is (....). We do not recognize him as our president. He entered the White House by cheating. He is not a legitimate president. Even a great number of American mothers who their sons were not sent to Iraq, are agree with me. They know Bush as (....). Mr. President! As much as we hate war, we hate Bush and his gangs!

I want you know that if you intend to attack U.S., most of the people are like me here. We can’t stop his stupid acts for now, but I am writing this letter, because I know you as a pious and logical man.

I am not scared of Bush and his gangs or his security forces, but since I do not want them to interrupt my battle and my fellow Americans’ struggle against this administration, please keep my name and identification anonymous.

With best wishes
----------------------------


In the Name of Almighty God, the All-knowing, the Most Lovingly Compassionate

Venerable mother,

Greetings,

First of all, I apologize for the delay of answering your question. This is due to my heavy schedules. So far, I have received many letters – with the same type of messages - such as yours.

If your son opposed to go to Iraq and impose pressure on the people of that region, and then was forcibly taken there, certainly Almighty God would help him. And those who have forced your beloved son to go to the war are responsible for his blood and the bloodshed that they have caused. They should answer Almighty God in the Day of Judgment.

In regard to statement you have made, since I did not want my reply lead to any problem for you, did not send it through e-mail, because if some agents are getting into private life of the American citizens and eligitimatley control them, may create problem for you. Instead, I decided to post the reply on the web log that those who may have the same views such as yours, get the answer.

Respectable lady,

We respect all people of the world- including the American people. We think highly of all human’s life, dignity, reputation and also their properties. Our religion – Islam- does not allow us to disturb the peace and tranquility of human beings. Even those Iranian mothers who have lost their children due to American atrocities in Iran or those children, who their parents have been martyred, do not concur that the American people be immolated for the wrong-headedness and arrogance of their Statesmen. Even the Iranian girls and boys, who have lost all their family members in U.S. warship attack against Iranian passenger airplane in Persian Gulf, do not assent that Iran initiates any war.

For eight years, we defended ourselves against all-out invasion of Saddam who was supported by the world powers. And any type of weaponry, intelligence and supplies that he needed was provided to him immediately. Our people were not even safe from Saddam’s chemical bombs. When the green light was given to Saddam by the big powers - including U.S. government - he tested the most lethal chemical weapons – produced in the west – on the innocent people of Iran.

What benefit do you think Saddam and his masters in United States of America and some other countries drew from the imposition of the eight year war on Iran? Nothing! Even a square foot of our land was not kept occupied by Saddam’s forces. They could achieve none of their illegitimate goals and wills. Our youths with the strength of their faith, defended their own land and astonished the world.

Dear sister,

Of course, we too hate war – as you do. Certainly, we are not panic-stricken of a defensive war, but we believe there are many diplomatic and peaceful ways and approaches to intercept paranoidal bullying and expansion policies and practices of U.S., Zionist usurper regime – the occupier of Palestine – and Britain. I assure you that Iran would not initiate any war!

Unfortunately today, the entire world is somehow afoul of some hostile powers and politicians that are non-edified, power greed and warmongers. Consequently, thousands of innocent human lives are being lost every day and many mothers mourn their beloved children. The greed of the aforementioned politicians for wealth and power is unbounded. The atmosphere of threat and intimidation has made the life unpleasant and miserable for every human being of different nations. Unfortunately, you are not the only one who is tormented and aggrieved from the egoistic politicians with their egotistic mentality. Everyday in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and almost everywhere in the world, many fathers and mothers mourn their children and have become grief-stricken. Their outcry would not go beyond the high wall of powers - that based on wealth and weapons.

Tormented mother,

I hope the people of the world bring to book these egoistic and bellicose politicians – who have immolated everything for the interest of a few companies and certain groups. I am confident that you and American people would not trust the pre-fabricated lies and complicated, poisonous propagandas that are made and broadcasted by the inhumane, aggressive and capitalist networks. And you do search and try to find out about the truth.

Perhaps as you know - so many times - the Zionist media and those that are related to power clans, have even distorted my own words, and have told the people of the world, bunch of untruth regarding my country as well. I know that the environment you live in – even though there are many large networks of media that are affiliated to certain groups - to discover the truth is very difficult, yet, to uncover and expose the truth, for the intelligent people of that region does not sound impossible.

I am sorry to say that the American people are kept in an absolute censorship concerning the outside world by their government.

I am certain if the American people know where and on what, their tax money are spent, even the strong supporters of the government would not stand it and rush to the street to show their opposition in regard to that issue. What you can do is - to break the aura of deception and fabrication which has been created by the media affiliated to the government - and try your best to uncover and reveal the truth.

Esteemed mother,

I hope that the world we live in would never see the darkness of a war and the people of the world can bring their call for peace across to the warmongers who have appeared as statesmen and call themselves as the guardians of others. I hope by early withdrawal of U.S. occupied forces from Iraq, peace, tranquility and fraternity would come back to the region. I also hope that the people of Iraq be able to live in peace and harmony next to their families and continue their own lifestyle. And finally, I hope that the American youth live next to their families and serve their own country.

If you rely on Almighty God, you would succeed.

The Latest
Defection Still Cited as Reason for Disappearance
03/07/2007 3:25 PM ET
Unconfirmed reports now indicate that Gen. Ali Reza Asghari, the former Iranian Minstry of Defense official who disappeared in Istanbul in early February, is being interrogated in a northern European country while being processed for transfer to the United States.

Ali Reza Ashgari disappeared immediately after arriving in Istanbul about a month ago. In the ensuing time, intrigue has surrounded the case, and rumors have circulated charging Mossad or other Western intelligence services with his kidnapping.

Al-Sharq al-Aswat first reported yesterday that their sources have indicated Asghari had left Istanbul and defected to the United States.

Today, Al-Sharq maintains that Ashgari is seeking asylum from the United States, but is being held in an unidentified European country while his fate is determined.

Ashgari, a retired general from the Revolutionary Guard, is rumored to have intimate knowledge of the Iranian defense establishment and nuclear program.

According to Ha'aretz, Israeli media has reported for years that Ashgari was a senior intelligence official in Lebanon, responsible for maintaining relations with Hezbollah.

Stay Tuned
Asharq al-Aswat Reports Asgari Has Defected to the US
03/06/2007 4:29 PM ET
An Iranian general missing since early February may have defected to the US to request political asylum, according to a report Tuesday in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Ali Reza Asgari, a former official with Iran's Ministry of Defense, disappeared immediately after arriving in Istanbul about a month ago. In the ensuing time, intrigue has surrounded the case, and rumors have circulated charging Mossad or other Western intelligence services with his kidnapping.

US officials have yet to confirm or deny the latest account of Asgari's whereabouts.

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